A peek into the world of political betting

Betting on cricket is more popular with the urban crowd, the rural population prefers political betting

  • Published 26.05.19, 12:05 AM
  • Updated 26.05.19, 12:05 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Political betting is centred on national parties and not politicians Graphic by Sabyasachi Kundu

Right now, it is like Christmas for the satoris…” says my source. He continues, “…IPL [Indian Premier League], general elections, World Cup.” He is a bookie, and a satori is someone who places bets. After weeks of cajoling, dodging and cajoling again, our man has finally agreed to talk. He explains that while betting on cricket matches is more popular with the urban crowd, the rural population prefers political betting. “You go to any village in the country, politics is something every person knows about or thinks he knows. To bet on cricket or any other sport, one has to have an idea of the sport, the track record of the players and so on and so forth. But political betting is easier. It is luck and luck.”

Political betting is centred on national parties and not politicians. The bet is on the number of seats a political party will win or lose in a particular state or, in the case of Lok Sabha elections, across the whole country. While the IPL was in full swing, however, betting on elections was low-key. But as May 23, the result date, approached, things political picked up, or so we were given to believe.

The projections or the numbers forecast, the same on which people place bets, come from “different levels of people above me”, says the bookie. And these projections are the same no matter which part of the country one is in or who the bookie is. “It is like stock prices,” he explains. The way it works — if one bets Rs 500, one wins Rs 1,000 or loses the amount invested. As per his knowledge, people bet anything between Rs 500 and Rs 5 lakh. He talks about Ram Choubey, a milkman in Bihar’s Gaya district, who bet Rs 3 lakh during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “I don’t think he had ever seen that much money in his life,” says my source.

And that is the thing about this kind of betting — it happens all through the run-up to the results, but all payments and deductions come into effect only after result day. (Most of the payments are routed indirectly through hawala or hundi transactions — an alternative remittance channel that exists outside of traditional banking systems.) That year, Choubey lost all the money he bet and had to mortgage his house to make the payments.

The market for political betting today in India is apparently 40 per cent of the cricket betting market. I am told over the past two years, apps and websites have come to cater to those who want to bet on political parties. Says my source, “Of course, these apps are not on PlayStore or AppStore. Only we, the bookies, know the specifics and where they can be downloaded from.” He explains how while some use apps and links to bet, a large section continues to approach bookies. And how is one to know who is a bookie? He says, “True, we don’t have banners or brochures or advertisements, but people just know. Most bookies in India are traders in the stock market.”

Before I can say anything he adds, “Now if you ask me where these rates or numbers come from, that would be the top level. Ho sakta hai koi minister ho, ya ho sakta hai woh out of India rehta ho… The person who is heading all of this could be a minister or it could be someone who is living aboard.”

And what might have been some of the projections from the general elections betting scene this year? He pauses and adds a caveat, “Even bookie predictions can go wrong. People think we know what is going to happen as we have insider information, but it is not so.” But what are the trends this year, I am insistent. Hum and haw, hum and haw... Yes, Balakot and Pulwama have had an impact…things are always changing… who’s to tell, it’s satta, after all.

And what’s to matter now?

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