The Betting Fixation!

That the whole world is a stage is old stuff; ‘Casino Royale’ would be a more apt moniker with every move and moment of mankind making the globe seem like a kind of a gambling den.

Now, call it profound philosophy or practical polemics, but the fact is all thought and deed are open-ended w.r.t results! While many filled this void of uncertainty with God, religion and astrology, the more enterprising found in it an opportunity for a fast buck (or whatever it was in those barter days). Enter, Gambling, the ‘game of chance’. Ever since, newer, novel and nuanced games have emerged from the fertile, albeit often crooked, minds of human geniuses out to exploit the popular quirky itch for quick money.

That said, it is not always the dough but the added kick of guessing right or just winning, besides the fun. For, if money were the prime motive, a ‘good’ gambler should quit in time, but he rarely does. That is pathological gambling which psychologists claim is a very common disease. The gambling hierarchy also includes casual, impulsive or compulsive gamblers. This when social stigma still attaches to it. Besides, most scriptures too condemn gambling which actually proves its wide-spread prevelence even in those distant times. Forget mortals with dubious morals, even gods of various callings across, rather above, the globe have indulged in gambling. Clearly, the ‘vice’ ones of various hue have won the day consistently.

Anyway, of all the gambling forays of the two-legged animals, betting has always remained the, er, best bet, reigning as the oldest and most popular brand of gambling! And since the dawn of gambling days, somehow, sport has been the biggest playground of punters. It is said many games were invented just to satisfy the gambling itch of the idle rich craving for some fun. For every game on the field, from chariot racing to cricket, Fencing or Football, a parallel one was always on, off the field! Indeed, it is quite possible that while the Pandavas were playing that fateful game of dice, some Kaurava courtiers would have opened a gilded book in an adjacent room-with-a-view, betting on Sakuni, who, we all know, delivered to the tee.

Betting and Fixing are twins, in my opinion. An off-the-field activity with high stakes cannot remain a prisoner of on-field randomness for long. There is a point when the sporting spirit, spurred by fatigue and fast money, gives way to the easier option of ‘advance booking’, which would also be less testing of a person’s skills and more friendly to the pocket. And this threshold was crossed in the vintage days of gambling itself. Games that involved heavy betting ran the risk of getting fixed even in ancient times. Rigging of wrestling matches, chariot racing etc were achieved usually through two means: Sabotage or a simple buy-out ensured that the desired winner went up the ramp in what were essentially competitions with only binary (ie, win or lose) possibilities. Sakuni’s loaded dice was another novelty, an ancestor to the greased cricket balls or extra-heavy bats of today. But in the present, with betting being less about the outcome and instead involoving virtually every act in a game, fixing has expectedly loomed larger. The hierarchy now is: Fixing first, betting next and then finally, the game, a la the pre-fixed script. Really, it seems no coincidence that matches are also called Fixtures!

The point is, whenever a player, be he a gladiator or a T20 batsman (aah, what’s the difference), walks into the field he would be carrying on his shoulders, not just the fate of his team or his teeming fans, but also that of a host of ‘non-playing players’ too. That makes him a dicey target, not only of his sporting opponents, but those non- playing players too. It is merrier and made easy when players themselves feel no moral qualms in picking up a quick buck on the sly, particularly when individual pride is subsumed by the more abstract ‘team spirit’. After all, the ball is in their coat, so to say, and they have the power to do as they please. In any case, what’s a mere no-ball or two in a big match? Or who can tell if the team captains or a couple of vital players on either teams, backed by betters, strike a deal? My bet is even the toss of the coin is often rigged. Or at the least, the coin would have heads on both sides!

In most of the West, betting, or for that matter, gambling is legal, but subject, of course, to stringent legislation. Fixing or cheating of any kind invites criminal proceedings. In Islamic countries gambling is forbidden in Shariat and therefore by law too. Clearly, the Pak players appear to have committed a higher crime and would likely lose their ticket to Paradise and land elsewhere. Betting, with the exception of lotteries and horse- racing, is illegal in India. But then so is corruption or black money. So, like them, betting too thrives in great splendour: This unnofficial trade is worth hundreds of thousands of crores according to official estimates. (The IPL alone involved over Rs 20,000 cr of illegal betting. And that is over and above Modi & Co’s astronomical auction bets, pardon, bids!) And worse, betting finances all kinds of criminal activities from drug-trafficking to terrorism.

And as if all the real-time betting weren’t enough, online betting too is becoming a big draw here. Many foreign (legal) betting syndicates are reportedly engaged in (illegal) betting in India over Indian events, primarily sporting. This has raised new questions of law and regulation. According to a recent report, a Delhi court, in sheer frustration over the nexus between organised crime and betting syndicates, has called for the legalisation of betting. This is in tune with recent trends of de-criminalising nefarious activities on the specious logic that prevention has not worked! In any case, bigger gambling arenas as stock markets and elections are legally around already. Still, the court’s anguish is ours too when it wonders what the police and other authorities are doing! Busy betting of course, what else? After all, bookies (as the illegal ones are called in contrast to the respectful ‘Bookmakers’ in legalised nations) operate quite openly in kerbs, stadiums, streets and everywhere. Is this possible if the lawmen are not in the loop? By the way, what are the odds of betting being legalised?

Whatever, but a nation so high on betting surely needs some fixing!

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Jawahar T R