Gambling is a basic instinct

Cricket will be better off if betting were to be legal

Updated - July 16, 2015 08:09 am IST

Published - July 16, 2015 12:58 am IST

Betting (gambling) is older than the evolution of our species — homo sapiens. Taking a chance has been a part of life long before dinosaurs went extinct because of an asteroid clash about 65 million years ago.

To decide to walk upright was a major gamble. But considering where we are today, it appears to have paid off. 

Even in recorded history, betting was habitual among people watching gladiators in the ring in Roman colosseums.

Nirmal Shekar

This is especially true of team sports where it is a little short of the impossible for one athlete to influence the course of the game for illicit monetary consideration.

But then, betting and spot-fixing have become so rampant in the no-secrets age of Internet that most of us gamble cognitively even if we don’t actually place bets.

We attend matches or watch sport on television because of its inherent uncertainties.

Webster’s dictionary defines gambling as an act that depends on chances, risk or an uncertain venture. If everybody were to avoid risks, the world will be a boring place. After all, life itself is a Russian roulette; so where is the question of getting rid of the gambling instinct.

“Gambling is the future of the Internet. You can only look at so many dirty pictures,” said Simon Noble, a bookmaker based in Austria.

According to very, very reliable sources, cricket betting alone is worth close to Rs. 5000 crore annually in India.

Even a 10 per cent tax at half that money can provide electricity to thousands of villages. But unfortunately those in power choose to inhabit moral high grounds and ignore the reality.

Lionel Messi, the greatest player on planet earth, freely admits that he has a gambler’s instinct when playing for Barcelona.

“The urge to gamble is so universal and its practice is so pleasurable, that I assume it must be evil,” wrote Heywood Broun, an American sports writer.

Then again, betting is evil largely because it is deemed illegal. The gambling instinct is universal. We sit on a lofty pedestal and watch horses race because of our culturally acquired sense of human exceptionalism.

Great writers have sought to demolish such perception. “The gambling instinct is born in all normal persons,” wrote the great Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Gambler

A gamble In the event, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, it is a gamble not to gamble. 

There are plenty of reasons why we gamble. But the answer may be found in the Pleistocene era. Survival depended on gambling at that time.

“A dollar won is twice as sweet as a dollar earned,” said the famous actor Paul Newman.

In India, even as cricket brought in hundreds of millions, the Indian Premier League turned out to be a mega betting event each year.

“In gambling, the many must lose in order that a few may win,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. 

The gambling instinct gave an edge to those who acted on their gut feeling several thousands of years ago.

Today there are dozens of online betting sites catering to Indian cricket punters, and the much-maligned Indian Premier League.

It is time then for the Government to step in and fill its coffers. It has nothing to lose. If it can divert 50 per cent of the betting traffic to itself, it will still mean a win-win situation.

Among the experts and former cricketers, opinion is divided. “We all know betting is illegal in India. For betting to be legalised in India, we need a strong system,” said Bishan Singh Bedi.

Another Indian all-time great, Kapil Dev, believes that we need systems in place to legalise gambling. “I don’t think we are mature enough to legalise betting,” said Kapil.

But then, at the end of the day, you can bet your bottom dollar that cricket will be better off if betting were to be legal.

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