Ranga’s office is a dark and dingy room in a rundown building, where the phones ring incessantly. Ranga’s business is flourishing by the day but he prefers to keep it anonymous; that’s what makes it safe.
But then, Ranga is no ordinary ‘ businessman’, he is a punter in Rajasthan’s illegal betting market, which has gone on an overdrive with the approaching Assembly elections, slated for December 1.
The Congress led by chief minister Ashok Gehlot is trying to stave off a stiff challenge from a resurgent BJP and retain power for another term.
States like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have flourishing betting syndicates which have country-wide business networks.
“These are good times for us. People are betting on anything and everything related to the elections. Things will really heat up once the main parties, the Congress and BJP, announce their candidates,” said Ranga, who is based in Phalodi, a major betting hub in Jodhpur district.
Rajasthan’s betting syndicate is mainly run from centres in FatehpurLachmangarh in Sikar, Bikaner and Phalodi. According to several punters Hindustan Times spoke to, by the time the elections are over in December 8, the state’s ‘business’ would be anything between ` 500 crore to ` 700 crores.
With their ears close to the ground, the punters - known as sattebaaz in local parlance - are offering bets on prospective candidates to which party would eventually form the government.
“I plan to invest around Rs 5 lakh on election bets in the coming two months and hope to have a great windfall. I have already invested Rs1 lakh on the overall election results as it is offering me an odd of 1:2 on my bet,” said a betting enthusiast Mohan Singh.
If the betting trends were to serve as an opinion poll, the opposition BJP appears to be the party in favour. Punters are giving equal odds to the BJP winning 110 seats while the same applies for 65-70 seats to the Congress.
“These are early trends and betting styles do not always reflect the ground reality. But we offer bets, which will bring good results. The odds may change once the tickets are distributed by both the parties. It is a long way to go,” said Sanjay, another a punter in FatehpurLachmangarh in Sikar district said.
The punters are not averse to giving out their first names as “there will be thousands of Sanjays here”.
The highly- organised syndicates operate over phone and the punter and those placing bets never meet. But in the localised betting, people usually know the punter and the deals are done faceto-face.
The punters said that most of the bets have been placed on whether the BJP’s Janardan Singh Gehlot will take on chief minister Ashok Gehlot from Sardarpura seat in Jodhpur and will Congress field Shanti Dhariwal againt against former chief minister and BJP’s Vasundhara Raje from Jhalarapatan in Jhalawar district.
Significantly, the election betting is running alongside the highly lucrative cricket betting with India and Australia locked in a 7-match one-day series. The visitors lead 1-0 in the series, which will conclude on November 2.
“Though bets are being put more on cricket at this point of time but people have natural interests in the assembly elections. Everybody is predicting results, said another well-known punter known simply as Vyas ji who operates out of Bikaner.
Police, however, expressed helplessness on the rampant betting going on right under their noses. “We do keep track of bookies, who run organised betting rackets but it is very hard to keep track of individual punters and bookies. We are planning to constitute special teams in the coming weeks,” a senior official of the Jaipur Commissionarate said in condition of anonymity.