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Howzat? The clamour to legalise sports betting in India

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Media captionShould India relax a ban on gambling on cricket?

It is the last over of the cricket match, with India needing 17 runs to win against Australia.

In his two-bedroom house located in central Mumbai, a middle-aged man is watching the game, nervously. He's sitting on the edge of his grey colour sofa with his mobile phone glued to his right hand.

He has made more than 10 calls in the last 30 minutes - not to discuss the match but to keep revising his bet.

Five minutes earlier his money was on Australia, but now as the Indian batsman gets ready to face the last over he's changed his mind.

"I think India is winning, make the change," he tells his bookie on the phone.

And a few minutes later his prediction comes true, as India wins the match in a nail-biting finish.

"I have made $200 today," he says with a childlike glee.

For more than three decades he's been betting on cricket matches. We can't reveal his name as what he's doing is illegal in India.

Image caption You can only legally bet on horse races in India

Other than horse racing, sports betting of any kind is not allowed in India. Despite that, illegal betting syndicates thrive in the country.

'Black money'

According to the Doha-based International Centre for Sports Security, India's illegal sports betting market is worth some $150bn a year. And much of that gambling money is directed towards cricket.

With no legal avenue, punters place bets using their phones by making calls to bookies. Gamblers can bet on anything related to the cricket match, from who is winning to the highest individual run scorer.

Most of these transactions involve so-called "black money", which is cash not declared to the taxman.

The 1867 Public Gambling Act bars any kind of gambling in India, but unlike in the US which has a law prohibiting internet gambling, there is nothing similar here.

And offshore betting companies are using this loophole to lure Indians. Even though there are no online betting operators based out of India, a lot people have registered accounts with offshore firms.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cricket is India's most popular sport - and it attracts lots of illegal gambling as well

"Legally you can get away [with this], as the law is ambiguous for online gambling," says Mumbai- based lawyer HP Ranina.

But despite this, it is "offline gambling", done through phone calls which dominate the market.

Calls for legalisation

The clamour to legalise betting in cricket has grown after a panel appointed by India's Supreme Court proposed the idea, saying it would help clamp down on corruption in the nation's favourite sport.

The Justice RM Lodha Commission was set up to suggest changes in the functioning of India's cricket regulatory body, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), after the 2013 Indian Premier League betting scandal came to light.

Two franchises have been banned for two years after some players and team officials were found guilty of fixing parts of the match at the behest of bookmakers.

Image caption Many gamblers say they would prefer to bet legally

The panel also argues that legalised betting will bring in tax revenues for the exchequer that could amount to $2bn a year.

Even gamblers feel that legalising sports betting is a move in the right direction.

"I don't mind paying some money out my profits, as long as I can gamble publicly," says our cricket gambler.

It would also open a huge business opportunity for licensed bookmakers and global online betting companies to set up operations in India.

And it would help restrict match fixing in cricket and other sports, argue many, by helping make transactions involved in gambling more transparent..

"If you work alongside betting companies, you will have a very effective method of stamping out match fixing," says George Oborne, who runs a mock betting website, India Bet.

But many also believe, that the taxes levied on the gambler and the bookie will have to be reasonable to make it attractive enough for them to gamble legally.

Image caption Any moves to widen legalised gambling in India are likely to be long and politically difficult

However, there are limitations.

"Definitely there will be illegal betting because (some) people wouldn't want to leave an audit trail by entering the white market," says Mr Oborne.

He adds that people who use unaccounted money to place big bets will never gamble legally.

Approval question

For sports gambling to be legalised, parliamentary approval will be required to create a new law, and politically this will be a hard idea to sell.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption India's illegal sports betting market is worth some $150bn a year

"Even though many people are involved in some sort of gambling - it's still a controversial issue for many," says our unnamed punter.

And given that India has a federal structural - each state will have to also pass a separate law to legalise sports gambling in their territory.

"The process is so long and tricky that it will take years," says Mr Ranina."That's why, we are cynical about this becoming a reality anytime soon."

Yet with the idea having been endorsed by an official panel for the first time, at least a debate has ignited around a subject - which until now was considered a taboo.

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