July 11, 2019

Multi-crore cricket betting racket busted, two arrested’. That was the headline of a newspaper story half-way through the World Cup. The article talked about a police raid on a Grant Road hotel; apart from the two young men who were caught, all the paraphernelia of betting rackets was there. As a matter of fact, in case you are thinking of career options, you don’t need much infrastructure : one TV set (LED if you want to get fancy), a diary for noting betting transactions (usually in uncomplicated code) and multiple  mobile phones to receive calls from punters (8 phones in this case). There was also a man called Vicky (there`s always a man called Vicky in these things) who was said to be giving a running commentary on the cricket action.

In spite of the impressive number of mobiles, Vicky & Co are small fry. Their tell-tale diary showed transactions of Rs 14 crore in the previous 11 days, which is really tiny change when you consider that across the country, the betting figure is said to be anywhere between Rs 1000 crore to Rs 1500 crore per match. As a matter of fact, the Indian gambling market is said to be as much as 60 billion US dollars. Now that`s serious money.

It`s even more serious when you consider that at least half of this involves some kind of criminal activity since most forms of gambling are illegal in our country ( ditto for our neighbours, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh). Some years ago, the Supreme Court made a distinction between ‘Games of Skill’ versus ‘Games of Chance’. Gambling on horse racing, for example, which involves studying records, form and so on, is OK, as are the card games rummy and bridge, while a three-card game like ‘flash’, played everywhere during Diwali, is a Game of Chance, so placing bets on it is illegal.

You would think that betting on cricket would also need skill because it involves studying player and team form, pitch and weather conditions and the like. That this is so can be seen from Vicky`s diary: betting on the West Indies vs Bangladesh match and New Zealand vs S Africa match was higher than for the India-Pakistan match which, according to the betting syndicate, was a foregone conclusion.

No one knows which came first, the chicken or the egg. Similarly, no one knows whether cricket betting was declared illegal first, or whether it developed first as a game of chance in our country and was therefore declared illegal. In India, betting on the final result of a match is passé: you now bet on ‘spot’ results. Like who will win the toss. Or whether, if India wins the toss, we will bat first. Or if we field, who will open the bowling (hey, it`s a spinner!) The evil of ‘Spot Fixing’ to which poor Hansie Cronje and the foolish Sreesanth and Mohd Amir fell victims, involves things of this kind. (The two bowlers, if you remember, took money to deliberately bowl no balls to pre-arranged signals). Indians bet on things like that, they bet even on what ball of which over will be hit for a four or a six!

In the West, gambling has been legal for years, and famous names like William Hill and Ladbrokes (they make lads broke?) will take bets on anything. Like the possibility of aliens being found. Incidentally, the odds on this were actually reduced from 5000 to 1 to 1000 to 1 (presumably when Trump became President). Someone even tried to bet on the world coming to an end but Ladbrokes didn`t accept the wager – suppose he won the bet; how would the company pay him his winnings?

Jokes, and frivolous bets apart, there is such a clear case for gambling to be legalised that you wonder what stops successive governments from changing the laws. Gambling is intrinsic to human nature, particularly when the humans in question are Indians; legalising would get huge revenues in taxes for the government; more importantly, it would get rid of the fixers and criminal elements who now run it. The way to make it more palatable to a moralistic public is not to say that the government is legalising gambling, but to announce that the government is taxing gamblers. Virtue triumphant!

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It`s official. Mumbai is Number One in the world! An international survey has shown that ours is the world`s ‘Most Traffic Congested City’. The study, the Tom Tom Traffic Index 2018 (because they publicise it widely?), has studied large cities over the last decade to come to this conclusion. Apparently, people spend 65% longer on the roads during peak hours on average than when the roads are free. Did I say ‘apparently’? I experience this every wretched evening as I go home.

By the way, Delhi is number 4 on the list, behind Bogota in Colombia and Lima in Peru, so Delhites aren`t much better off. And soon, all of us, wherever we live in India, will be worse off, because no government seems to give public transport any priority and cars are easy to get on monthly instalments. As a nation, we love our cars, and thanks to official policies, in the future we will get to spend all our time in them.