The chairman of Delta Corp on gambling, horses, retiring and then coming back
“I love being in the business of uncertainty," says Jaydev Mody, and without a dramatic pause or mysterious smile, finishes the sentence with, “like gambling".
The 58-year-old chairman of Delta Corp Ltd, one of the leading players in the gaming/gambling industry in the country, is matter of fact when he recounts his life story. Throughout that story, there aren’t any other intense pauses or moments when he would want to weigh in the significance of his statement. Not even when he mentions “retiring" at the age of 50, doing “nothing" for two years, before the lure of blackjack and others drew him back into the professional world.
Mody, dressed in a casual shirt and trousers, pours me a large 10-year-old Lagavulin and for himself the smoky Laphroaig, one of his favourite malts. It’s a medium-sized cold room, his “den" on the third floor of the four-storeyed bungalow, near Mahatma Gandhi’s Mumbai residence in Gamdevi. Dark brown leather sofas, a red carpet, dark wooden ceiling, maroon curtains and low-lit lamps almost complete the picture. There are over a dozen horses in the room, in the shapes of lampshades, ashtrays and large chess pieces placed all around. Multiple photographs of Mody with his race horses take up an entire wall.
Just a day earlier, Delta Corp had announced its second quarter results showing revenue of ₹ 145.3 crore. Its revenue from the core gaming business grew 58%, from ₹ 42.66 crore to ₹ 67.49 crore in the second quarter, which Mody says will be the percentage growth in the business over the next five years.
“Which business has shown this kind of growth?" he says, “especially in the last two-three years when all businesses have gone through extremely difficult times with no light at the end of the tunnel. For instance, the total amount of gambling in cricket alone is larger than the gaming revenue in Las Vegas, US. So this is big, it’s huge."
When probed further about gambling as a social phenomenon, Mody says, “Look at mythology—Indians are gamblers. It has been around since…forever. In the stock market, people take positions in the morning and get out in the afternoon without knowing which company they bought and why. They are all trading positions; the movement of price is speculative. And speculation is gambling."
“It’s an intrinsic part of our society," he says.
Delta Corp got into the gaming business between 2008-10 with Casino Royale Goa and King’s Casino. It brought its casinos and hotels under a single brand, Deltin (derived from gaming lingo dealt-in), this year. It currently holds three of the five offshore casino licences given by the Goa government. The best known is Casino Royale Goa, now called Deltin Jaqk (for Jack-Ace-Queen-King) anchored in the Mandovi river at Panjim, while the newest addition is Deltin Royale, besides two hotels in Goa, which Mody says is a necessary by-product of being in the gaming business. He says they are the largest player in India in this rather nascent business that’s present only in Goa, Sikkim and now Daman, Gujarat. In the last five years, Delta Corp has gone from a one-ship, 10- to 12-table operation to 200 tables today and starting another 100 in Daman.
The Union territory is the most convenient watering hole to the dry state of Gujarat, and its lower taxes and proximity to Mumbai makes it an attractive destination for single, young men. It’s the age group, Mody says, that’s most into gambling, the 24-32 year olds in love with poker. He adds that the most popular gambling destinations in the world are those which are within driving distance, ideal for that late night spontaneous decision.
Mody’s career graph did not follow a pre-determined script. After his lawyer father died at a young age, Mody, still in his teens, abandoned the decision to pursue law, which would have happened as a natural course. “After he died, I became pretty wild; I still have some of those interests," he says without elaborating. “Things my father never did—he would be turning in his grave for sure."
He did his bachelor’s of arts from Elphinstone College, Mumbai, and started working simultaneously, first in a clerical position with Camphor and Allied Products Ltd and then in VIP Bags & Luggage as a manager. But by 22, with about five years of work experience, he was done serving others and wanted to “make money".
First came an export business—he set up a factory in Nashik for narrow fabrics—he is still the chairman of Arrow Textiles Ltd, a company with a current market capitalization of ₹ 10 crore. A few years later, his maternal grandmother, who owned some tenanted property in Vadodara, let him tinker with it, which led him into the business of real estate. A prolific partnership with Ajay Piramal (now chairman of the Piramal Group), his friend from the Amateur Riders’ Club, followed. It led to India’s first retail mall, Crossroads (now called Sobo Central) in Tardeo, residential buildings Ashok Towers in Parel, the commercial Peninsula Corporate Park in Lower Parel, among several others.
“It was an opportunity Ajay gave me, which he could have done with several other people, but he trusted me. We developed 3-3.5 million sq. ft but the whole mill experience—getting the land, getting 3,000-5,000 workers to peacefully settle, get approvals and run my businesses was extremely stressful. In the meantime, Ajay and my sister (Urvi, who was married to the late Ashok Piramal), who did business together, split up, which was also difficult."
So Mody “retired" at 50 after 15 years of “stress", choosing to travel to favourite destinations like Goa and east Africa. But he also got bored soon, and decided to do something that would be fun for a change. “I bumped into people who said a new policy will allow gaming in Goa. I love uncertainty, that’s why I owned horses even when I could not afford them. I have always been to a casino whenever overseas. I understand it well. It sounded like a great idea to put up a casino for a lark."
Goa led to gaming, east Africa to more real estate developments, this time with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd, which got 60% stake in the business. But as the gaming business began to take off, Mody had to liquidate his interests in Kenya and move everything into gaming.
“Thirty per cent of the people who come to Goa are for the casinos. This year, all casinos will pay the state ₹ 200 crore. For a state of 2.2-2.3 million people, it’s huge money. The Goans are not gambling, nor are the foreigners. It’s the outstation Indian who comes to Goa," Mody adds.
He says the next big thing would be onshore gambling. Right now, live gambling happens offshore and electronic is onshore. But he is expecting that to change, because it does not make sense that “you can be 50 yards from land on a boat and have live gambling". He says places with no agriculture or tourist interests in Goa can be developed into gaming destinations. He also has Sri Lanka in sight as the next place to set up some tables.
These interests keep Mody travelling, but he looks forward to the 10-odd days he spends at home every month, with family and six Labradors (there are also two Boxers in Pune, two more Labs and a Great Dane in Goa). Wife Zia is a well-known corporate lawyer, eldest daughter Anjali is a furniture designer with her own business, Aarti is carrying a legacy forward by studying law in New York, US, and the youngest Aditi works in Delta Corp.
Mody says, “My dad and Zia, both lawyers, have ingrained in me this obsession to be compliant and above board."
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