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Report No. 276

A. Betting and Gambling in Ancient India

2.3 Several instances of betting and gambling are found in Indian history and mythology. References of these activities are found in both the epics, Ramyana and Mahabharata. Yudhishtir, the eldest son of Pandu had a penchant for gambling. One of the most gripping scenes in the Mahabharata shows him losing not only his whole kingdom, but also his brothers and wife in the 'Game of Dice'.

2.4 The mythological story of Nala and Damayanti, depicts that gambling existed in ancient India. In fact, laws were framed in ancient India to regulate it6. Like Yagnavalkya7, the Narada-Smriti8 and Kautilya9, all advocated that gambling should exist under the control of the State.

2.5 These activities also find mention in ancient texts like the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda, both written around 1500 B.C.

This verse of Rig Veda means that:

The gambler's wife is left forlorn and wretched: the mother mourns the son who wanders homeless. In constant fear, in debt, and seeking money, he goes by night to the home of others [probably to steal]. Play not with dice, [but] cultivate your corn-land. Enjoy the gain, and deem that wealth sufficient. There are your cattle, there your wife, O gambler: So this good Savitur himself has told me.

2.6 In Hymn XXXVIII of Atharv Veda, reference is found to "a charm for success in gambling" and summoning the Apsaras to obtain the stake and gain the victory with skill.

2.7 Yagnyavalkya Smriti deals with the issue differently. It states:

This verse means that:

The son should not pay the paternal debt which was contracted for the purposes of spirituous liquor, lust or gambling, or which is due as the balance of an unpaid (i.e., remaining portion of) fine or toll, as also a gift without any consideration.

2.8 Translation of the verses 935 to 939 Katyayana Smriti reads:

If gambling cannot be stopped in the kingdom, it shall be regulated. Gambling should be allowed to be carried on openly in the gambling hall (the hall licensed for the purpose).The gambling hall should be provided with an ornamental arch to indicate that it is a gambling hall, so that respectable men may not mistake the nature of the place. The King should impose tax on gambling and make it a source of income. Gambling could be carried on openly after payment of tax to the King10.

(emphasis added)

2.9 Manu Smriti, in this respect states

These verses mean:

Gambling and betting let the king exclude from his realm; those two vices cause the destruction of the kingdoms of princes (221).

Gambling and betting amount to open theft; the king shall always exert himself in suppressing both (of them) (222).


In a former Kalpa this (vice of) gambling has been seen to cause great enmity; a wise man, therefore, should not practise it even for amusement (227).

On every man who addicts himself to that (vice) either secretly or openly, the king may inflict punishment according to his discretion (228).

2.10 According to Manu, such activities are prohibited as they destroy truth, honesty and wealth. These are means of self-destruction and enmity.

2.11 Brihaspati, dealing with gambling in chapter XXVI, verse 199, recognises that though gambling had been proscribed by Manu, other law-givers allowed it when conducted under the State-control providing the King, a share from every stake11.

2.12 Narad Smriti describes gambling as a lawful amusement, when carried out in, public gaming houses.

2.13 Chanakya12suggested severe penalty for violation of gambling regulations as he considered all gamblers to be cheats13. Kautilya's Arthshastra reads:

These verses mean that:

The Superintendents of gambling house shall, therefore, be honest and supply dice at the rate of a kákani of hire per pair. Substitution by tricks of hand or dice other than thus supplied shall be punished with a fine of 12 panas.

A false player shall not only be punished first with the amercement and fines leviable for theft and deceit, but will also be subjected to forfeit the stakes he has won. The Superintendent shall take not only 5 per cent of the stakes won by every winner, and the hire payable for supplying dice and other accessories of dice play, but also the fee chargeable for supplying water and accommodation, besides the charge for licence.

He can at the same time carry on the transactions of sale or mortgage of things. If he does not forbid tricks of hand and other deceitful practices, he shall be punished with twice the amount of the fine (levied from the deceitful gamblers.). The same rules shall apply to betting and challenging except those in learning and art.

2.14 Despite prevalence of gambling, the ancient texts reflect a sceptical approach towards it, as it is considered to be a risky activity which can lead not only to self-harm but also to even self destruction.

2.15 It has always been debated whether gambling and betting is a game of skill or chance. Allusions to 'dicing being an art' are found in Mahabharata and folklore. For example, there is a story in Jataka tales, where a king was considered to be so skilled in the art of dicing that he could predict the result of the throw before the dice struck the board. If the result was unfavourable to him, he would catch the dice before it landed and would make his opponent repeat the throw14.

2.16 With the passage of time, the forms and ways of betting and gambling have changed. Today, people gamble and bet over phone, SMSs, Skype etc. Easy access to internet betting sites, having a global presence has made regulation of betting a serious challenge. Telecommunication technology and global bank transfers have linked betting hosts into networks. But despite these developments, 'skill' or 'chance' is still a decisive factor in determining the legality of gambling and betting in India.

2.17 A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Kishan Chander & Ors. v. State of Madhya Pradesh15, observed:

Considering the fact that gambling is an evil and it is rampant, that gaming houses flourish as profitable business and that detection of gambling is extremely difficult, the law to root out gambling cannot but be in the public interest. Such a law must of necessity provide for special procedure but so long as it is not arbitrary and contains adequate safeguards it cannot be successfully assailed.

Legal Framework - Gambling and Sports betting including Cricket in India Back

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