Saturday, 1 June 2013

Don’t Legalise Gambling: It is Suicidal for India

It is tempting. The lure of quick and easy money is indeed tempting. It is in human instinct. It is said that had Yudhistir resisted the temptation of playing dice with the Kauravas and losing Draupadi in the gamble, there would not have been Mahabharat.

In India or for that matter in the world, gambling is as old as our civilization. Recent uproar over huge betting running into hundreds of thousands of crores on cricket matches in the IPL league has given impetus to a particular lobby who wants gambling to be legalized in India. Their argument is that India like Europe and America will earn revenues running into billions. According to one estimate, total betting in India (all illegal) runs into over three lakh crores in a year.

One should not forget that India is a welfare state and we are duty bound to protect the vast majority of ordinary people from the lure of gambling. The recent spate of suicides in West Bengal following the burst of Sharadha Chit Fund should be  an eye opener. Mere earning of revenue is not and should not be  only goal of any government in the country. If raising funds is the only objective, India should not only open a chain of gambling dens and casinos but should also run ‘prostitution centres’ with government license. Despite strong lobby of tourism industry, the centre did not allow casinos in major cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Banglore. The only exception is Goa where a casino runs.

What happened in West Bengal was promise of the promoters of the chit funds to give handsome returns on their deposit- far exceeding the return from any mode of savings. Some were driven to the lure because of sheer poverty others went willfully into the trap to multiply their cash in short time. The end result was death and destruction of families.

The votaries of legal gambling in India may argue that those putting bet on cricket matches or elections results are not poor or common man. It is absolutely wrong. Even in small towns like Jamshedpur and Ranchi in Jharkhand people put money on bet during the IPL league. The daily betting amount ran into more than a crore of rupees.

The betting is not confined to matches. People bet on rain forecast. Habitual gamblers bet on anything and everything.

Lotteries were and still are popular gamble. Many State Governments used to run lottery and allow private players to sell lottery tickets. It resulted in many poor people losing their hard earned money to lottery; many committed suicides. The governments were forced to ban lottery. Only few states like Punjab and some states in the North East run lottery.

In Mumbai, Matka is popular and is a daily betting game on numbers. It is banned. Yet many people play it. Think what would happen if gambling is legalized. The number of participants would multiply and ordinary people instead of buying ration and vegetable would put their money on betting.

Addiction is bad. Like gambling, people are also addicted to drinking. I recall a short story that we read as part of our school syllabus. Noted litterateur and novelist Munshi Premchand had written a short story ‘Kafan’. It tells about a man and his son. The wife of the man dies and there is not enough money even to by the shroud. People around collect money and give it to the man to buy the cloth for shroud. The duo, father and the son set out to fetch the cloth from market. On way there is a tavern. They go to the tavern and drink the money as the body of the woman lay in the courtyard of the house. It is a grim reminder of the ruin that gambling can bring to India.

For the rich and affluent no destination is far. They can go to Las Vegas and Monte Carlo to play in style of legendary film character James Bond. But everybody is not 007.

~ R. K. Sinha

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