The Cricket World Cup is due to start in a week, and across India, rival teams are already limbering up for six weeks of running, chasing and the occasional catch. In this case, however, the opposing sides are not batsmen and bowlers — they are police and underground bookmakers.
Gambling is illegal in almost all parts of India, and following a string of high-profile match-fixing scandals, bookies are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid detection. Many operate in distant rural areas, but some are reported to be planning to take bets from trains or small planes.
“None of the bookies may remain stationed in Mumbai to accept bets. We will rather prefer going to remote villages and monitoring the match with [satellite TV] service. And if we are caught there, it will be easier to handle the village police,” a bookmaker from South Mumbai told DNA newspaper.
Fourteen nations, including England, are participating in the matches, which will take place in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Illicit betting on the results will range from a few pennies placed among friends to wagers worth millions of pounds by international syndicates.
Last year Dharmesh Sharma, an Indian judge, said illegal betting on cricket had reached “alarming” levels.
“The extent of money that it generates is diverted to clandestine and sinister objectives like drug trafficking and terrorist activities,” said Sharma during an appeal hearing in Delhi of two Indian men convicted of organising betting during a match between Australia and South Africa in the 2007 World Cup.
He estimated that there are “as many as 2 000 to 3 000 bookies operating whenever cricket matches or any other sport are played all over the world.”
Three Pakistani players were recently caught in a spot-betting sting in the United Kingdom by the News of the World newspaper. They received long bans and still face criminal charges in the UK.
Police officials say they are confident of intercepting the bookies. “We have carried out one major raid and seized cash, laptops and mobile phones with international numbers. We are also revisiting previous cases against bookies and the location of all the bookies on record shall be checked. We will take more vigorous action as the World Cup draws closer,” Himanshu Roy, joint commissioner of police [crime], told reporters.
Special anti-betting teams have also been set up in the central southern Indian city of Hyderabad, the local police commissioner said.
However, the efforts are unlikely to make much impact. There is a long history of collusion between India’s deeply corrupt police and bookmakers.
“The half-hearted and lackadaisical approach of the police in nabbing the perpetrators of organised crime leaves the impression that the police are not only ill-equipped to deal with such cases but probably they have higher stakes in continuance of the same under their patronage,” said judge Sharma said in his judgement.
Many bookmakers expect a small number of high profile arrests to keep the cricketing authorities happy but otherwise “business as usual”.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has pressed World Cup organisers to provide proof that they will impose tough anti-corruption measures.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC’s chief executive, said earlier this month that the organisation took a “zero-tolerance approach” to corruption.
“We will do everything to ensure that the World Cup is clean,” Lorgat told reporters.
However the last-minute rush to complete arrangements for the World Cup has worried some top cricketing officials. England’s group match against India in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata was shifted to Bangalore two weeks ago as the famous Eden Gardens ground was not ready. Work is continuing on many other new or rebuilt stadiums across the region and experts are concerned that measures such as the establishment of enforced “no-go zones” around the teams’ dressing rooms are likely to be overlooked in the rush to meet deadlines.
Last year, two small bombs at a match in the glitzy Indian Premier League were blamed on the betting mafia by police. – guardian.co.uk