How, what, when
People in the world of betting believe that the tentacles of their industry are spread across the nation. With Mumbai, Delhi, Indore, Jaipur, Guwahati, Kolkata and Chennai as their hotspots, 1,200 bookies are estimated to be currently operating across the country. Some of them are also believed to have links with Dawood and Chhota Rajan. It is known that only five or six of these bookies set the betting rates for a particular match and these are then circulated around the country.
BS, a Mumbai bookie, informs, “Each bookie has a minimum of 50 and a maximum of 300 punters placing bets through him.” The cricket expert then goes on to add proudly, “We have specialists for various fields like cricket, tennis, elections and even the rains.” Dependra Pathak, Additional Commissioner and spokes-man of the Delhi Police, believes that it isn’t only the outcome of a game that interests bookies — “There are high stakes even on the most ridiculous of things like who will bat first, which bowler will open the attack and other such aspects of the game.”
Marlon Samuels was caught parting with such information while on the phone with Mukesh Kochar, an alleged bookie. The International Council for Cricket (ICC) had banned the disclosure of such information to bookies in 1994 after Australians Shane Warne and Mark Waugh had confessed to taking money for giving out information about the pitch’s condition.
Raising the global stake
A cricket-junkie of a bookie points out that a one-day match usually attracts wagers of Rs 700 to Rs 800 crore. “Similarly, the betting value of a test match is somewhere between Rs 400 crore and 500 crore,” he says. Bookies estimate that there are a minimum of 100 one-dayers and approximately 25 to 30 tests in a year that are considered bet-worthy. “Bets are placed almost on all the matches irrespective of the countries playing,” the bookie said. ACP Dependra Pathak says that it is this international nature of the betting industry which makes it hard for investigating agencies to keep an adequate tab — “There are instances when the betting is taking place in some other country, where betting has been legalised. So on many occasions we miss out on bets being placed.”
Circles of trust
The entire business of betting is believed to be trust-based. “Business is done on the phone and no money is exchanged till the result of a match is out,” says K. P., a cricket punter. “If a punter loses, he hands over the amount he had placed only the day after.” This settling of deals is often referred to as valan in betting parlance.
In some cases, the valan takes more than a day to seal. This usually happens when a presumed one-sided game turns into a thriller with the underdog emerging as victor. Those who had put money on the weaker side then find themselves earning the big cash prize, as the odds are often frightfully high. “To settle a huge amount, which is unexpected, we need more than just the one day,” confesses an anonymous bookie.
The traditional hawala system usually helps money change hands but over the last few years, bookies and punters have also started using private banks. “We take the account number of the punter and deposit the cash if he wins,” says a Mumbai bookie. To avoid the gaze of the income tax department, the amount deposited is usually less than Rs 50,000 — “That is the reason we ask punters to open accounts in multiple banks so that a reasonable amount can be transferred at a time.” Bookies add that individual bets often go up to as much as Rs 10 crore at a time, which makes that need for multiple bank accounts even more pressing.
A double life
And what kinds of professions allow punters to wage such huge amounts? “They are mostly builders, diamond traders, stock investors and there are also some members of the film industry who are involved,” says the Mumbai bookie. The bookies themselves have a second or side business to misguide law enforcement agencies. “Most of them are also into construction, diamonds, jewellery and textile,” the bookie said. In Mumbai, in particular, bookies often double up as cable-wallahs and share brokers.
Police officials believe that monetary gains apart, psychological causes also propel these otherwise comfortable businessmen toward the unpredictable world of betting. ACP Dependra Pathak says, “When people win bets, apart from satisfying their egos it also instills sense of power in them. They get a kick from these habits. They then start thinking that they can alter the course of a game.”
Getting high on tech
Due to increased surveillance by law enforcement agencies, the bookies dutifully measure their tracks these days. Instead of using the traditional landline, all bookies now prefer the mobile phone. “Using mobile phones, bookies are able to choose meeting places without giving rise to suspicion,” said an unusually busy bookie. According to him, most bookies are prone to check into resorts on the outskirts of cities while a game is in progress. Some bookies have also been found using satellite phones, which are much harder for the authorities to intercept.
Laptops and electronic diaries have also become regular tools. The North Delhi district police recently arrested four people who were placing bets on an Australia-New Zealand match. The accused were found recording conversations on a laptop to ensure that punters are not able to retract their statements. Devesh Chandra Srivastava, Deputy Commissioner of Police (North), says that the money being exchanged could only best be described as ‘big’ — “They had rented a flat for an unusually steep rate of Rs 8,000 a day. This is obviously more than just a word-of-mouth game.”
Some bookies are also known to insist on travelling in an SUV. They are usually in teams of three or four and the essential accessory that is the mobile phone is always at hand. One of the bookie’s assistants in the vehicle is constantly in touch with a colleague, who is constantly watching the match on television at some other location. A ball-to-ball update is given, which helps the bookie accept bets and change rates constantly.