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Bet on Net is a big gamble
- Diwali sheds light on second-night blues of online players

New Delhi, Oct. 21: Working hard round the year, leather businessman Sanjeev Gupta waits for Diwali to have some fun. And what can be better than “gambling with a few lakhs”'

The annual card parties at friends’ homes are nice but he craves more. So every year he ends up driving his Toyota Corolla down to one of Karol Bagh’s bars that double as gambling dens on evenings leading up to Diwali.

This year, his wife convinced him to give 24-hour online gambling a shot and the idea interested him.

“I thought if I could gamble with real people late at night at the click of a mouse, that would be best. For, I wouldn’t be missing out on time with my children,” Gupta said.

He tried a handful of sites where people can register as players — under their real name or a pseudonym — test their gambling skills against others, and pay or receive money using credit cards or debit cards.

Gambling — particularly on “teen patti” or flash — being one of Delhi’s favourite pastimes during Diwali, Gupta was shocked to find that hardly any of those he met online the first day had returned the next evening.

This is the challenge India’s nascent online gambling industry is grappling with: how to give customers the same sense of adrenaline-pumping excitement that the gambling dens offer.

“We have no ready answers, but must come up with some soon,” said Rajiv Kumar of Party Poker, an online gambling firm based on the Caribbean islands that has tie-ups with local licensees here.

Online gambling firms generally reveal only email identities as the means to contact them, which Gupta feels affects customers’ trust in them.

“If I feel they aren’t even confident of telling me the phone number where I can contact them, that would make me suspicious,” he said.

A spokesperson for 3patti.com — which claims to be the largest Indian online gambling firm — admitted that most clients rarely visit a second time. “Thousands come to the site every night, but mostly out of curiosity. A hundred or so register, but only a few last beyond the first night.”

Site owners say the number of hits from Indian clients is second only to the number of American hits. But the total money Indians bid per year is below $1 billion (Rs 4,532 crore) — a very small fraction of the $637 billion that Americans wagered last year. The US figure is expected to fall with an online gambling ban coming into effect there last week.

Indian firms are hoping the US ban would come as a Diwali gift for them, with several companies shifting operations out of America.

“We hope they come and invest more in India,” said the 3patti.com spokesperson.

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