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From IPL to elections, gambling no taboo in Rajasthan’s betting hub of Phalodi

Punters are not only taking bets on which party will win elections but also on who will become chief minister if the Congress indeed comes to power.

Updated: Oct 21, 2018 07:51:47

By Manoj Ahuja

Every second person in Rajasthan’s Phalodi town is into gambling. It’s like a second business for them. (HT Photo)

When dark clouds hover in the sky above, residents of Phalodi, a town of around 1,00,000 people in Rajasthan, will bet if it is going to rain. And should it start drizzling at 4 in the morning, local bookies will accept bets on how heavy — or light— the rain will be; they have their own way of gauging the rainfall.

“The way to measure it is whether the rains will lead to water flowing through the pipes on the roofs or so heavily that the nullah (drain below) starts overflowing,” one local bookie said.

Residents of Phalodi, located about 120 kilometers from Jodhpur, love to gamble, on anything and everything — from the outcome of Indian Premier League (IPL) matches to election results.The betting turnover in Phalodi during the IPL season is estimated by bookies to be between Rs 2,500 crore and Rs 3,000 crore. Similar amounts are wagered at election time.

To be sure, most betting and gambling activity is illegal in India. In a report released this year, the Law Commission suggested legalising them with stringent controls, saying the inability of law enforcers to implement a total ban had led to the expansion of illegal gambling.



“After the code of conduct has come into effect, we have formed special team to curb the incidents of gambling. Compare to last year, 30% more cases have been registered against those who are involved in gambling, not only in Phalodi, but in nearby areas too. We have also speeded up the investigation process,” said Rajan Dushyant, superintendent of police, Jodhpur rural. (Phalodi comes under Jodhpur Rural police district.)

In Phalodi, the people learn the intricacies of betting in their childhood and typically step into the gambling market after crossing their teens. “It’s one of those places where gambling is not considered evil even though many people have to sell their property to settle their gambling debts. The people have been gambling here for hundreds of years. Every second person here is into gambling. He might have other business, but gambling is like his second business. A few years ago, when a speculator died, the whole town was shut down,” the first bookie said.

Rajasthan will vote in assembly elections on December 7 and it is peak time for the betting market of Phalodi. Since 1993, voters of Rajasthan have alternately elected the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party to govern the state, and if that trend holds, it will be the former’s turn to form government when the election results are declared on December 11.

Needless to say, the locals are betting on the Congress coming to power. The betting trends indicate that the Congress will win 100-120 seats in the 200-member assembly. Of course, punters say campaign rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi could swing things around for the BJP in the coming weeks.

“The trends vary every day. In August, we were giving 125-130 seats to Congress. It shot up to 140-150 seats, but has come down now. Anybody is free to place bets on any figure, but the rate varies. For example, you can place a bet on Congress winning 140 seats at 50 paise and on Congress winning 110 seats at 25 paise,” said a second bookie who, like the first, spoke on condition that he wouldn’t be named.

So, if someone bets Rs 1 on the Congress winning 110 seats at 25 paise, he will win Rs 1.25 if he gets it right. If the bet has been placed on Congress winning 140 seats, the person might end up wining Rs 1.50. “At present, the rate is Rs 1.50 on BJP winning and 50 paise on Congress,” he said, showing that the odds favour the Congress.

Punters are not only taking bets on which party will win elections but also on who will become chief minister if the Congress indeed comes to power. The two main claimants to the post are former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot.

“At present, Ashok Gehlot is favoured over Sachin Pilot,” said a third bookie, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Later, bets will be placed on who will get the party ticket to fight which seat and which party will win how much seats in particular regions, he said.

One problem in trusting the trends in the betting market is that sometimes a section of the bookies themselves create the perception of a wave in favour of a particular party or a candidate to mislead others.

“Everyone is here to win, not to lose. During Gujarat elections, a hawa was created that Congress was returning to power. Similarly during the coming Rajasthan elections, hawa has been created that Congress is coming to power. But in case BJP wins again, the people who will make maximum profit are the bookies. You may call it cheating but it’s quite common phenomenon,” a Phalodi-based journalist, who did not wish to be named, said.

Gandhi Chowk in Phalodi is the traditional hub of the satta bazaar, although in the past few years the business has been run mostly on cell phones. “You get down at Phalodi railway station and tell the auto-rickshaw driver to take you to satta bazaar and he will get you there,” the first bookie said.

Phalodi has 20-25 prominent bookies and many smaller ones. “Even an outsider can approach the bookie and get into the game, but he will need to have some reference by a local person,” he said. The rates for betting on politics, rains and other subjects of local interest are fixed at the local level.

Betting on cricket matches takes place at the national level. Rates are released in Mumbai and Delhi, and the deals are settled among local bookies, said the third bookie .

While the bookies of Phalodi usually get it right, they lost heavily during the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 when the Bharatiya Janata Party won an unexpectedly high number of seats.

“During the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, we had people betting upto Rs 1 crore. Many people lost their shirt and kept a low profile for months afterwards,” the bookie said.

Regular punters are carefully watching the day-to-day developments in the state’s political theatre and playing it safe. The market is slow and locals expect business to improve and larger bets to be placed only in the first week of November and then after the voting is completed.

State Congress spokesperson Archana Sharma said the party doesn’t go by what the satta market is signalling, but was confident of forming the next government. State Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Mukesh Pareek too said the party doesn’t go by the satta market and was confident of returning to power with a higher number of seats than last time around.

First Published: Oct 21, 2018 07:26:57

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