'World Cup was bad business for India, Nepal'

  • Sudeshna Sarkar (IANS), PTI, Kathmandu
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  • Updated: Mar 29, 2003 12:41 IST

An Indian businessman who runs all four of Nepal's casinos says that while the World Cup was good for entertainment, it was undoubtedly bad for business, both for India and Nepal.

In Nepal, where tourists, especially visitors from India, form the mainstay of the tourism-driven economy, cricket-crazy Indians preferred to stay glued to the television screen, watching the matches.

The result was a drop in business for the casinos, despite the cessation of Maoist insurgency from January 29.

In India, the situation was worse. Zee Television estimated that aboutRs.300 billion had been spent on bets since the World Cup began on February 8. During the finals alone, it guesstimated the wagers piled up over Rs.5 billion.

Rakesh Wadhwa, the executive director of the Nepal casinos, said the rampant gambling on cricket meant an enormous amount of foreign exchange draining out of India. He attributed the drain to the government's policy of banning gambling.

"This is nothing but hypocrisy on the part of the Indian government, when every by-lane in India turns into an illegal betting den during the Cup," he said.

"From time to time the police arrest a few bookies but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The vast gambling enterprise flourishes underground and the government loses billions because of its short-sightedness," Wadhwa told IANS.

Wadhwa, who has also operated casinos in Sri Lanka, said that since the home team was a favourite in India, the bookies transferred the extra bets out of the country to ensure they didn't go bust.

"It's just like re-insurance," he explained.

"The money was converted into foreign exchange and siphoned off to Dubai, London and Australia where the bets equalised and the Indian government stood to gain nothing because of its stupid policy."

Wadhwa said gambling in India is as old as the Hindu epic Mahabharat. Yet no political party can afford to admit that because of what he called "institutionalised hypocrisy and double standards".

"Betting on horses and lotteries are okay and even run by several state governments while casinos are banned," he said in exasperation.

"'Matka' is routine in Mumbai. Laws only push gambling underground where the mafia controls the game and the government loses out on the tax it would have got if it had allowed businessmen.

"Look at the period of prohibition in the U.S. in the 1920s when gangs like Al Capone's flourished."

Even if the Indian government gives its nod to casinos, Wadhwa is pessimistic about how it will help the Indian entrepreneur.

"Then it (Indian government) will probably want multi-billion dollar casinos and foreign companies with that kind of money will grab all the licences,"he said.

"This is a government that will allow that to happen instead of encouraging its own countrymen who have the expertise."

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