New Delhi: India is the most favoured team to win the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Cricket World Cup (3:1 odds) and Canada the least (500:1), according to a book viewed by Mint ahead of a sporting tournament that could see a lot of money change hands through illegal bets.
Betting on cricket matches is illegal in India, but in the next four months, starting with the World Cup and continuing with the popular Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament, at least Rs20,000 crore in bets will be made through a network of shadowy bookies and rudimentary books—Mint saw one that a bookie referred to as a rate card and which merely listed the basic odds.
It’s difficult to measure the size of an industry that doesn’t exist on paper. The Rs20,000 crore estimate came from five people, three senior officers of India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED), the agency that investigates illegal foreign exchange transactions; and two police officers, one each from Delhi and Mumbai. None of the five wanted to be identified.
The Delhi police official, who was part of a unit that unearthed the match-fixing ring that resulted in the fall from grace of late South African captain Hansie Cronje, said the Rs20,000 crore number was, in his opinion, a lower estimate. “The size of the illegal betting racket has grown and can be anything between Rs20,000 crore and Rs50,000 crore,” he added.
One of the ED officers, who is directly involved in the agency’s investigation of IPL, claimed that “information collected from various agencies” pointed to at least $100 million (Rs455 crore today) “changing hands for each match” during the last edition of the league in 2010.
The centre of gravity of the business would appear to be Dubai.
The Delhi-based bookie, who shared the rate card with Mint, on condition of anonymity said that these books come from agents in Mumbai who, in turn, receive them from Dubai.
The Mumbai police officer confirmed this. “It is a very well-known fact that the betting racket is controlled from Dubai. We are keeping a close watch on these bookies, their phones and movements are under constant watch. That is the only counter-measure,” he said.
The Delhi bookie said that while the bets are placed by calling a certain cellphone number, not everyone could call him up and place a bet. “It is a closely linked group; not everyone can play. The entry is for only those who come with reliable reference,” he added.
James Fitzgerald, media and communications manager of ICC, said in a phone interview that the council has taken measures to ensure that the current World Cup remains free of corruption. “As recent events have shown, ICC has zero tolerance to the issue of corruption. I cannot discuss the specifics of anti-corruption measures taken by ICC, but we have done everything possible to maintain the integrity of the game,” he added.
Legalizing bets would help reduce the threat of betting becoming match fixing, said Dileep Premachandran, associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. “We cannot ignore the fact that there is going to be betting. It is a stupid thing not to legalize it because that way cricket board and other agencies can regulate and monitor,” he added.
Apart from outcomes, bets can be placed on the runs a batsman will score, the wickets a bowler will take, the team that will win the toss, the number of sixes that will be hit in the match, and other such things.
And the business is off to a good start. “I have already collected Rs4 crore for the first match between India and Bangladesh,” said the Delhi bookie.