The government’s decision to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes from circulation may be aimed at curbing black money, but it has also ‘yorked’ another group dealing in thousands of crores of rupees --- illegal cricket bookies.
The business of illegal bookies has shuddered to a halt after the government announcement on November 8, on the eve of the first Test between India and England at Rajkot.
“Ours is a cash-based business and the government’s decision has hit us hard. There are millions of rupees in circulation,” a Delhi-based bookie told HT.
Three years ago, a study by international auditing firm KPMG revealed that betting to the tune of Rs 300,000 crore takes place in sport in the country annually. That should give a broad idea of the volume of business this shadowy group of bookies does.
A bookie bemoaned: “The government announced its decision on 8th evening… This is an important series for people involved in the business. No one got a chance to recover.”
Illegal cricket betting in India is largely controlled by bookies based in Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Indore, Surat, Mumbai and Delhi.
Though business will be hit, it doesn’t appear to be gloom and doom.
“Actually, all have earned enough money. So, I don’t think it will take long for us to forget our losses due to demonetisation,” said a bookie, who was among those arrested after the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal. “But the crunch of new currency will hit the business hard as Indian team is in the middle of a series and is going to play more matches in coming months.”
However, bookies and their clients with illegal accounts of foreign betting sites seem to be operating unaffected.
Staggering sums are handled by these illegal bookies and the Indian sub-continent is seen as the hub of this activity.
In May 2015, the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) Ahmedabad unit reportedly broke an international cricket betting racket to the tune of Rs 2,000 crore, arresting two alleged bookies from Delhi.
It claimed the arrested bookies had transferred about Rs 300 crore through the hawala (illegal) channel to UK-based betting company Betfair to obtain a master password to place bets online and that was sold to many people in India. Their winnings and losses were dealt with by these bookies in Indian currency.
Last month, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had published a report which estimated that a sum of Rs 19,000 crore could be earned annually by imposing a 20% tax on sports betting (after it is legalised).