Sports some distance away, pandemic a safe bet for bookies
While legal betting is limited to horse-racing in the country, syndicates run illicit betting markets, often called the “satta bazaar”.Updated: Jun 29, 2020 00:40 IST
With all Indian sporting events suspended amid the public health crisis triggered by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Delhi’s betting rings have found a new game to wager on – predictions of statistics linked to the pandemic.
While legal betting is limited to horse-racing in the country, syndicates run illicit betting markets, often called the “satta bazaar”. The Delhi Public Gambling Act (1955), which is an offshoot of the old colonial statute Public Gambling Act (1867), bans public gambling and keeping of common gaming houses in the national capital.
Seven illegal bookmakers Hindustan Times spoke to in Delhi-National Capital Region said that since the Covid-19 outbreak forced sporting events to be put on hold, bets were now being placed on the dates and contours of the lockdown necessitated by the pandemic, the infection rate, the death toll, etc. These bets are often placed through surreptitious phone calls.
“Initially, when the virus was still new, bets were being placed on when it would be eradicated. Then, money was being placed on lockdown dates, which had a longer validity. Daily bets also included the infection and death counts in different cities,” a 38-year-old bookie, who has been involved in the illicit gambling business for nearly a decade, said on condition of anonymity.
Under the nationwide lockdown, which began on March 25, large gatherings, including social, political, religious, and sporting events were banned.
During the first phase of the lockdown, people were mostly placing bets on when the restrictions would be lifted. For instance, if a punter called to ask the “bhaav” (odds) to place a bet and they were told “44-46, Corona”, it meant that the odds were in “favour of corona” (infections rising in India) and the lockdown continuing beyond April 15. This means that for any bet, a bookie offers two odds — ‘safer’ and ‘riskier’. In the above cited instance, if a punter bets ₹1lakh in favour of the safer odd (44), they get a return of ₹1.44 lakh. If they place their bet against safer odds, they bet ‘riskier’, so a win will earn the punter their principal amount of ₹1 lakh plus ₹46,000.
“The validity of the bet on lockdown dates was usually set a day before the government announcement was expected. Those who bet for Corona, which means lockdown extending, won a good sum of money,” the bookie quoted above said.
To seal transactions, most bookies are using code words such as “India jeetega”, “un-India” or “Dilli mein corona”. “If the odds are in favour of corona, it means you are betting that cases will rise or the lockdown will continue. In the context of Delhi, at present, the odds are in favour of Corona, which means cases will rise as compared to the previous day,” a second bookie said, asking not to be named.
An east Delhi-based bookmaker, who has been involved in the “satta market” for nearly three decades, said that the interest in placing bets on the Covid-19 situation in India was primarily because of the ease with which predictions can be made on the widely available statistics and because of suspension of sporting events.
He said that many gamblers were eagerly waiting for the Indian Premier League (IPL), previously scheduled to begin from March 29, but the announcement on the postponement the matches came as a jolt to them. “IPL is a major season for us and the clients, and that being cancelled was a big hit. Many arrange for money to bet on these matches from different sources so that they can repay debts or pump this money into their businesses, etc,” said this bookie.
According to Doha-based International Centre for Sports Security, which promotes integrity and security in sports, the illegal betting market in India $150 billion, which includes $200 million bet on every one day international played by the Indian cricket team. Officials estimate that everyday transactions worth ₹12-15 crore is made in Delhi on illegal bets.
He added that since the first phase of the lockdown coincided with IPL, gamblers found the Covid-19 statistics to put their money on. However, considering the predictability and ease of availability of these numbers, many bookies have set minimum betting amounts of ₹50,000-₹1 lakh and are insisting that all transactions be made in cash.
“Operating has become considerably easy these days because it seems like the police are busy with the management of Covid-19. But you never take it easy in this field, because you can get busted anytime,” he added.
Delhi Police commissioner SN Shrivastava said that even though police personnel were busy because of the Covid-19 outbreak, units of the force were keeping a watch on such illegal networks.
“We do not know how the nature of betting has exactly changed after the pandemic, but the Delhi Police are showing no laxity in cracking down on any crime network. Our teams are monitoring all cyber operations to check for any illegal activity. Yes, our men are getting infected because of the kind of work we do, but they are also recovering at a fast rate and we are taking all the care that policing in the city does not suffer in any sense,” Shrivastava said.
A crime branch official, who did not wish to be named, said that many bookies were compulsive gamblers. “They place bets even on the weather during the monsoon season. We are yet to come across any such case of them betting on the issues related to the Covid 19 pandemic. It is possible they may be doing it. The extent of the betting will be clear when we get any specific tip-off and make arrests.”
Former Delhi police officer Ashok Chand said that the police generally relies on information collected from a network of sources to nail bookies because it is difficult to monitor their operations. Chand, who was the head of the crime branch in 2010-2012, said, “They (bookies) have very discreet way of operating so it is difficult to regularly monitor them. Therefore police mostly depend on the tip off they get from their sources or informants and then go back and forward to crack the whole chain. The nature and way of the way this network operates has definitely evolved, but so has policing,” said Chand.