Cricket World Cup: illegal bookmakers continue to thrive
With India’s talismanic hitter, MS Dhoni, a few inches from safety, a direct hit sends two bails flying through the air and ends with the hope of a country lifting the Cricket World Cup trophy.
The dismissal of the former captain submerges a nation in mourning and a man in ecstasy.
Aryan, who has asked not to be identified by his real name, is a bookmaker in one of the most populated states in India.
The vast majority of its clients, mostly local businessmen, had strongly bet that their team beat New Zealand at Old Trafford in Manchester.
Its misfortune caused the Aryans to obtain 500,000 rupees, more than $ 7,000.
After a series of raids by police, two other bookmakers withdrew from interviews with the BBC, but Aryan agreed to speak through an Internet call, using an anonymous account established a few moments before making contact.
His caution is unsurprising. Although hugely popular in all sectors of Indian society, sports betting is illegal in most of the country, thanks to a patchwork of state and national laws. This makes Aryan – who has worked in “the business” for 10 years, despite being in his 20s – a criminal.
His mood, however, is not one of a cowering fugitive.
The Cricket World Cup – the most anticipated tournament in India’s favourite sport – is “like a festival” for bookies, he says, and he doesn’t think the party will come to an end any time soon.
“I do feel scared sometimes that I might get caught,” Aryan admits, “but there is also this confidence that whatever happens, happens.
“We can always get bail in a few days. Some of my friends were caught during the last IPL [the Indian Premier League] and all got bail in 10 to 15 days and came back to this same business with double the energy.”
Neither India’s law ministry nor the Mumbai police responded to requests for comment on the claims made by Aryan, whose cocksure attitude is backed up by his confidence in the informal system that underpins the betting industry.
“I never take clients without reference,” he explains, when asked how an outsider would go about placing a bet.
How the British forged the first India cricket team
From life on the streets to Lord’s cricket ground
“This business runs on goodwill. When you connect to one person and your dealings and money transactions with that person are honest, that person will refer you to other people.
“Slowly you have a network of people connected to you. First it’s five people, then 10, then 15 – that’s how you form your chain.”
In addition, these days Aryan works mainly online, through a complex point system that involves mobile applications and regularly redirected websites.
Going digital has reduced the size of the average bet: in the days of in-person transactions, the bettors deposited up to $ 200,000 each. But business is booming, nonetheless.
Estimates of India’s clandestine betting market size are unreliable and range from $ 45 billion to the unlikely $ 150 billion.
News reports suggest that more than $ 190 million is being made in bets in each one-day international match involving the Indian national cricket team.
Whatever the actual number, few would doubt that India’s sports betting industry is among the largest in the world, and certainly larger than its legal equivalent in countries like the United Kingdom.
And although only a small percentage of India’s bookmakers are involved in corruption, the potential for large tax-free rewards has proved too tempting for some.
Aryan will not comment on whether professional cricketers or other people close to the game have ever made a bet with him, but the problems of the IPL with the arrangement of points, in which minor aspects of the game are deliberately modified, are well documented. .
In 2013, the players were accused of being involved in the practice, while in another case, Mumbai police arrested a relative of an employee of the Indian cricket board for having links with the bookmakers.
Subsequent committees headed by Indian judges found that several figures involved in the IPL were guilty of match-fixing and illegal betting.
In 2016, the Supreme Court of India asked the country’s Law Commission to investigate the pros and cons of decriminalizing bets. Last year, he concluded that regulation of a legalized industry would “effectively halt the threat of black money generation.”
The Commission also recommended creating a network of licensed operators and a registration system for players using existing identifications.
He mentioned the arguments that legalization would generate employment, protect vulnerable sectors of society and free police authorities that currently spend valuable resources to pursue bookmakers.
“Legalizing bets will keep everything uncovered,” says Siddhartha Upadhyay, a member of the governing body of the Indian Sports Authority, and founder of the non-profit organization Stairs, which encourages sports talent across the country.
“Everyone will know who is participating, who does not,” he says. “It can help reduce criminal activity to a large extent.
“I understand that the government must have a very strong tax structure and a very strong regulatory structure to do that, with today’s technological advances, that should not be a big problem.”
Legalization, argues Upadhyay, would also generate tens of billions of US dollars in tax revenue each year.
“Around 60,000 million rupees (almost $ 9 billion) have already been wagered in this World Cup, and the World Cup is not over yet,” he says.
This money raised from a tax on such bets, he suggests, could be used to finance sports infrastructure in villages across the country, for the ultimate benefit of the national game.
The Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (FICCI), of which Mr. Upadhyay is co-chairman, has also proposed a limit on the amount that each individual could bet to protect addicted gamblers.
Another possible benefit of decriminalization, according to FICCI, would be the power that the Indian government would have to choose and choose the events in which bets can be placed, perhaps increasing the less popular sports in the country.
Even if activists manage to overcome political obstacles to legalize sports betting, cultural barriers will remain.
While references to gambling are found in centuries-old Indian texts – in the Sanskrit epic of Mahabharata, a ruler loses his kingdom, his brothers and his wife in a “dice game”, vice seldom counts with the approval of the authors.
But as Upadhyay points out, cigarettes and alcohol are readily available in most states of India, despite the fact that “Sikhism prohibits smoking, and almost all other religions discourage consumption.”
For the sake of his wife and his young daughter, Aryan hopes that one day he can be legitimate and maybe even open a betting shop in his High Street location.
But he predicts that, in an attempt to avoid taxes on his profits, the speculators would still come to him with wads of cash.
Would he accept? He laughs. “Yes. I like money.”