Seedy world of the Indian bookies

Under Mafia scrutiny, odds-makers and punters face many dangers

Illegal cricket betting in India is a shady and secretive affair. It's all done by telephone - often mobiles - to lessen the risks. Bookies who answer have little time for pleasantries during the game's frenzy. They simply relay the odds. Typically they might be 75/100 on a win. Meaningless to the uninitiated, and anyone else who might be eavesdropping. Even the sums staked have codes: one peti the shorthand for 100,000 rupees. And punters use a recognised codename to register the bet. It takes only a few seconds before the line goes dead.

Illegal cricket betting in India is a shady and secretive affair. It's all done by telephone - often mobiles - to lessen the risks. Bookies who answer have little time for pleasantries during the game's frenzy. They simply relay the odds. Typically they might be 75/100 on a win. Meaningless to the uninitiated, and anyone else who might be eavesdropping. Even the sums staked have codes: one peti the shorthand for 100,000 rupees. And punters use a recognised codename to register the bet. It takes only a few seconds before the line goes dead.

Winnings, or losses, are totted up and settled later in cash. Few on either side welsh on the deal. It's all done on trust. Which is ironic for an industry awash with allegations of match-fixing and bribery. Hansie Cronje and his team-mates are the latest to fall under suspicion of involvement with Indian bookies. The betting blizzard of £16m that greets India's biggest one-day fixtures makes the temptation toinfluence the outcome irresistible. Especially for big operators with hot-lines to an expatriate Mafia sheltering in Dubai.

Most, though, are small outfits operating in seedy back-streets like Delhi's Paharganj district. A warren of narrow streets crowded with cheap backpackers' hotels, it is perfect cover for illegal bookies. Clerks man banks of phones. Televisions carry matches live on satellite. But such unprepossessing settings mask a sharpness. "These guys have brains like computers," said one awed punter. "They work out odds and positions in a split-second."

New clients must win the bookie's trust. It's a slow process. Friends of established gamblers introduce new punters. Bets are accepted for the first three or four months with the person who made the introduction acting as guarantor. Not that problems occur often. "With the underworld involved, these guys get physical if you don't pay-up," said one Delhi sports editor. "It's a dangerous business."

Perhaps more difficult than paying up is keeping up with the fiendishly complex odds. Rates might start at 75/100, where Rs100 correctly placed on, say, India winning, would bring a return of Rs75.Crucially, though, the odds can fluctuate as the game progresses. Odds can vary wildly as much as 70 or 80 times a game. "Cricket betting is like eight hours of non-stop sex," said one Bangalore bookie, who takes up to 2,000 calls during a game. Punters place seven or eight bets throughout the match to increase winnings, or, more likely, mitigate losses. "The essential difference between betting on the race course and cricket betting is that if the horse has lost you lose your money. But in cricket you have a chance of recovering your money until the last ball."

For punter and bookie alike it can be helter-skelter ride. "I personally prefer horse racing because the risks in cricket are too great," said one bookie. "You might have done everything right as a bookie, but your outstandings [debts] kill you."

Literally, it seems. Bangalore bookies settle up within 24 hours, but punters run on credit waiting for the next game to make up losses. Delhi, by contrast, has a tradition of next-day settlements, while Bombay sets apart a day weekly to square the books. Despite the Mafia's watchful eye, outstanding bets are sometimes so huge that bookies go under. At least two dozen have gone bust in the last few years two years and half a dozen committed suicide.

With such intense pressure it is not surprising that many are prepared to use any means to improve their odds. Snippets of information become vital. "Punters bet on everything. Team line-ups, withdrawals, you name it, even before the match starts," said one cricket writer. "So apparently innocent information carries a value."

Pointers to pitch condition and the wicket are crucial to fixing the odds. Pradeep Magazine, cricket writer for the Indian Express, was offered an £80,000 south Delhi apartment to introduce a bookie to touringIndian team members. "The entire thing is illegal, so they have to get this information to set their odds somewhere. The bookie who approached me wanted information on the wicket and anything I could tell him as the match progressed."

Other Indian journalists and team officials are less scrupulous than Magazine, who blew the whistle. One leading cricket writer, sacked after an exposé, was constantly on his mobile phone to bookies during matches. The Indian cricket board even banned its players carrying mobile phones in grounds from 1996.

Manoj Prabhakar, a former Indian swing bowler and opening batsman, has been pushing for a clean-up. He rocked the Indian cricketing establishment when he revealed that he was offered £40,000 by two team-mates to "play below par" at the 1994 Singer Cup in Sri Lanka. He fears match-fixing will have a disastrous outcome. "With the Mafia involved, it's a dangerous business and someone's going to get killed."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project