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Illegal Betting: The Dark Side of Cricket and Politics

It is no secret that illegal betting circuits thrive in India and the amount of money at stake often grosses many millions of dollars on various games, at times even controlling the political scenario in the country. Cricket in India was not spared from the wrath of illegal bettings or satta, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi
(Siliconeer Artwork)

India’s black economy is huge, estimated to be much more than the country’s national income. Quite a bit of the unaccounted wealth is stashed away in foreign accounts.

Some of this money is being poured into the massive illegal gambling or satta as locally referred, accompanying the just concluded World Cup Cricket tournament.

Despite stringent action by cricket administrators, police vigilance and crack downs, India’s satta market is flourishing.

Although such gambling is banned by the government, it remains one of the most organized gaming forums in India, with millions (some say billions) of dollars changing hands on a continuous basis.

According to police assessments, illegal betting on cricket in India amounts to well over U.S. $5 billion annually that also engenders a money laundering business to foreign banks and accounts.

Some police officials say the yearly volume could be as high as U.S. $20 billion, depending on the economy, the stock markets and real estate speculation, which can generate massive windfall gains for potential punters.

Usually, satta is at its busiest during cricket matches, when bets are placed on every aspect of the game and betting volumes during key one-day international matches (as opposed to the five-day ones), and which involve rivals like India and Pakistan, sometimes exceed U.S. $500 million.

Due to close tapping of cell phones and the Internet by authorities, the bets can also be placed on ‘word of mouth and secret codes’ within ‘closed circles’ while the operation runs on trust and cash transactions.

“The India-England league cricket match that ended in a tie has meant huge profits to those who bet on such an unlikely finish,” says a bookie who runs his business from New Delhi’s Chandni Chowk and Karol Bagh, two well known hubs.

In the last weeks since the World Cup matches have begun, Delhi Police have busted five betting rackets in the national capital itself. Speaking to the press about the modus operandi, a senior police official said, “the rate of the odds between the two teams originated from outside India. After the match was over, profit and loss was calculated by a software known as “Back ‘N’ Lay PRO.” The rates kept fluctuating. A laptop was used for data entry.”

Although the federal Reserve Bank of India has blocked credit-card payments on Web sites it believes are fronts for gambling, many illegal Internet forums continue to be operated by prominent bookies.

Punters set up an account with these sites and instruct them to make bets on their behalf for a fee. Illegal money laundering channels or hawala are also used.

With mobile phones and e-mails under threat of being monitored by the police, some operators offer big clients ‘free home delivery’ services using young boys as runners.

As with the stock market, the aim of the gamblers is to make quick returns. Some are in it for the thrill. But, mostly it is serious business that involves big money that sometimes prompts seamier aspects such as match fixing, spot fixing, corruption and ‘tainted’ players being bribed by bookies or others, even threatened by betting cartels that try to rig the odds.

Bets are placed on scores by individual players such as cricket star Sachin Tendulkar on possibilities of their scoring particular number of runs, getting out on first ball, run out and more. A face-off between traditional rivals India and Pakistan can send the satta market into a tizzy.

New concepts to escape detection include spot fixing that involves nuances such as a bowler delivering no balls that authorities cannot track easily and which also provides scope for players to earn ‘side money’ to suit the odds and in the worst case scenario, rig a match.

In recent years, the betting process has turned high-tech and global with the help of coded interactions via computers, mobile telephones and the Internet, and the underworld mafia taking keen interest.

Betting scandals over the last decade have particularly involved South African, Indian and Pakistani cricket players, some of who have been banned and faced court proceedings.

In the latest instance of spot fixing exposed a few months ago, three Pakistani players, including former captain Salman Butt were banned from playing the sport.

The most famous case involved the former captain of South Africa, Hansie Cronje, an iconic player, who later died under mysterious circumstances in an air crash.

In another instance, a former coach of the Pakistani team, Bob Woolmer, known to be strict with players allegedly dealing with the shady betting mafia, was also found dead under mysterious circumstances inside his hotel room.

There was suspicion that Woolmer was killed by a betting syndicate that lost a lot of money after Pakistan suffered a shock defeat by minnows Ireland during the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies.

While cricket remains the most sought-after sport in India, various permutations get thrown up during off season or other big events such as election results. For example, during national elections in India, big money could ride on party positions and candidate for prime minister, given the era of coalition governments in the country.

In July 2009, reports suggested that betting syndicates tried to influence a crucial vote of confidence against the government over the India-U.S. nuclear deal amid allegations of huge amounts of money changing hands to buy fringe voters in the Lok Sabha.

There were indications showing some independent MPs and smaller regional parties from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh were approached by betting syndicates to support or vote against the government, depending on the favored odds.

While big money for horse-trading among parliamentarians is usual in Indian politics, it was the first time there was serious talk that bookies could be directly involved in determining the political future of the country. In the end, however, the government survived the vote and the nuclear deal was approved.

Siddharth Srivastava is India correspondent for Siliconeer. He lives in New Delhi.


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Cricket in India has not been spared from the wrath of illegal betting or satta, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

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