Shabir Hussein Shekhadam Khandwawala, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) new Chief of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has taken a strong stance against legalised betting.
The new anti-corruption leader’s opinions are in stark contrast to former BCCI ACU head Ajit Singh, who believed that stricter regulations of India’s betting industry would assist with controlling and combating corruption in cricket, the country’s most widely watched sport.
Additionally, former BCII President Anurag Thakur reiterated this point, arguing that the legalisation of gambling would purge underground elements from the sector and, in turn, better safeguard cricket from corruption threats.
However, speaking to the Press Trust of India, former Gujarat Police Chief Khandwawala maintained a significantly different viewpoint to his predecessor.
“Whether the government legalises betting or not, that is a different matter but deep inside, I feel, as a police officer, that betting can lead to match-fixing. The government, so far, has rightly not legalised betting,” he remarked.
“Betting encourages match-fixing. So there should not be any change on this, we can make the rules more strict. We will work on that. It is a matter of great prestige that cricket is largely free of corruption. Credit should go to BCCI for that.”
The regulated betting market is still in its developing stages in India. Although both offline and online gambling is legal in the country, it is the responsibility of regional governments to draft regulations concerning its legality and scope.
However, the existence of a young population with a strong interest in sport has driven interest in betting, and subsequent growth in the market.
Speaking at the SBC Digital – India conference in January, Sunil Krishnamurthy, General Secretary of the All India Gaming Federation Advisory Board (AIGF), commented: “There are a lot of growth drivers. The population in India under the age of 45 has really taken up online skill gaming in a very big way.
“There are also 560 million internet users and the proliferation of internet in India has been a big boom for this industry. “
The popularity of cricket has also been noted as a major opportunity by many regulated sportsbooks, although until recently betting on the sport had largely occurred within unregulated black markets.
Domenico Mazzola, Commercial Director of Altenar – also speaking at the SBC Digital – India event, stated: “I think cricket can be absolutely massive. We know that cricket is the number one sport in India, and we know that it’s the number one sport which is bet on. There’s lots of turnover when it comes to betting on cricket, which can definitely help the regulation.”
However, incidents such as the arrest of 33 bookmaker agents in the city of Pune during the second ODI between England and India last month continue to fuel scepticism of the legalisation of betting.
“Our top players are so well paid that they are miles from the menace of match-fixing. We should feel proud about that,” Khandwawala added.
“Rooting out corruption from smaller events and leagues is a big challenge and we need to put an end to it. We need to ensure there is nothing shady happening at all levels of cricket being played in the country. Besides detecting, preventing any shady activity is very important.”
Khandwawala’s first major assignment as head of the ACU will be to oversee this year’s edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), beginning on 9 April.