History of gambling in India and its position in the social structure of the country

India is a land of vibrant cultures and engaging mythologies where gambling has existed since the dawn of time. Famous legends and folk tales from India suggest that board and dice games have been prevalent in the Indian society for centuries. Chess was invented in India and was the first board game to be popularised within the subcontinent. Mythologies like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have instances of board games and the ritual of gambling for entertaining. But since they are mythologies it can’t be said for sure that such things ever existed. Yet in the Buddhist era around 300 BC, a game known as ‘Pasaa’ became a choice of the common folk. The nuts from the Vibhitaka tree were used to make rolling dices for wood board games. Apart from board games animal fights were very popular, cockfights, ram fights and horse racing were sports you could bet on. The atrocious caste and class system, which was highly incorporated in the social dynamics had also taken root in the gamblers arena. Some sports were only available to the rich and the royalty like fighting pits of exotic animals, horse racing other athletic events where the marginalised could not be a part of the entertainment.

Rolling dices

By the 15th century, gambling houses had opened in India, which would have to pay taxes to the local government, which in turn would be paid to the king. This gambling tax was to make sure that everything is being run smoothly and the profits move to the king’s treasury. Governments all around the world have this tendency to allow gambling on heavy taxes and then dissolve the system when something goes wrong. In the 17th century, the Englishmen had gathered significant control over this vast nation, and with them came new ways of gambling and betting on sports. Cricket was introduced by the Britishers as a game for the royalty and provided many Indians with a new platform to gamble. Kolkata became the capital of British India and with the administration came the military. Even today the Indian army owns vast plots of lands in the cultural capital of the country, these lands once belonged to the British military. In the 1800s they opened racecourses and cricket matches between different British presidencies.

Gambling became so huge that the English government had to curb down the industry using the Public Gaming Act of 1867, which declared all gambling houses to be illegal. Until today gambling is banned in India, but illicit gambling and legal loopholes have taken over the authorities. Most sports are bet on especially the Indian Premier League, a series of cricket matches. Time and again many cricket players get banned by the board of cricket for match-fixing and doing a favour to bookies.

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