Cricket: How the gangsters sucker players into betting

A terrifying crime syndicate is the force behind the thriving illegal bookmaking industry in India. By Peter Popham in Delhi
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The Independent Online
FOUR YEARS ago, during the Australian cricket team's tour of Pakistan, Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, we now know, took money from an Indian bookmaker in return for information about weather and ground conditions. But who was the bookmaker? In Delhi and Bombay, no one is talking. Betting on cricket is illegal, but another reason, a connected one, is that it is in the grip of the most fearsome crime syndicate in the subcontinent.

Dawood Ibrahim started as a small-time gangster in Bombay, rose through narcotics, protection, prostitution and property speculation then, in the early 1990s, when the heat got too hot, switched his operation to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He is now believed to divide his time between Dubai and Karachi in Pakistan. But through his lieutenants he remains a frighteningly important figure in Bombay.

Earnings from cricket betting are steady. "The [illegal betting] trade is controlled by a Dubai cartel," Aniruddha Bahal, a respected investigative reporter, wrote last year. "...Dawood [Ibrahim] takes a keen interest in match-fixing." Two of the gangster's brothers, Anees and Sunil Sawant (Sunil was shot dead in Dubai in 1995), have been named as principal figures in the racket.

From their headquarters in Sharjah, the desert town near Dubai which has become a major venue for international one-day cricket, the criminals who run cricket betting keep the branches in Bombay and Karachi on a short leash: odds are rigidly controlled to prevent punters profiting from hedging - taking advantage of price fluctuations to back all possible outcomes at a profit. Discipline is ruthlessly imposed on the many smaller fish active in the racket throughout India and Pakistan. They stick to the Sharjah odds or face the consequences.

The great thing about cricket betting, from the bookies' point of view, is that there are so many different things you can bet on - the toss, individual scores, a bowler's wides, team scores per innings, as well the final result. Most of these can be fixed, given co-operative players. The Indian bookie's approach to Waugh and Warne was only the first stage in a common process, according to Bahal.

He says: "When bookmakers approach players, there are three stage. First they ask for information about who's playing and who's not playing, the state of the pitch and so on, for which they pay well. Next they say, "would you like to take a free bet with us?" If the player wins, he wins; but if he loses, the loss is overlooked. Then finally they say, "could you arrange to get out for under 15? Or to bowl outside off stump for a couple of overs?" Once the player gets sucked in, what's to stop the bookies from blackmailing them?"