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Betting market is on fire for Cricket World Cup

With the elections out of the way, Indians could actually focus on what is important, such as cricket.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Updated: May 29, 2019, 08.35 AM IST
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KL Rahul playing a shot during India-Bangladesh practice match.
By Anand Vasu

Moments after the first exit polls came out, the election results really caught fire. It was the evening so only television channels caught the benefits, in terms of ratings and viewership. The next morning, when the stock markets opened, the rally was a combination of relief and reassurance. All those who had banked on a horse getting his nose across the line could either book their profits, put more in where they were hesitant before, fearing volatility, or hedge their five-year bets.

Once that was over, another market opened up, ever so gently. With the elections out of the way, Indians could actually focus on what is important, such as cricket, with the World Cup around the corner. The numbers are staggering to begin with. In practice matches, where only 10 wickets can fall, but anybody in the 15 can bat — not even real contests — the betting is already through the roof. As India played Bangladesh, £17 million was bet, on a single game of no consequence, on one legal betting platform in England.

But, don’t be too alarmed by that number. On the same website £71 million pounds was matched in bets on the Indian Premier League (IPL) final that the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) lost to the Mumbai Indians (MI).

It is reasonably expected that every match involving the Big Three — India, England and Australia — will attract something in the range of £50 million pounds this World Cup. And this is on legal betting platforms.

It is a fact that even these legal betting outfits rely on money from India, where betting on cricket is illegal, for much of their revenue. While the average punter cannot register a credit card, create an account and bet on these websites there are multiple ways to circumvent the system.

Having a family member or friend overseas who can create an account and work through that is the easiest, but this is for the person who has an odd flutter. For serious gamblers, who play money on each game, hedging bets and working spreads — not too different from day traders in the stock market — there exist avenues to park money. “I have to clear my dues on Monday. There are no extensions, no options, nothing to discuss,” a regular punter in Mumbai said. “It doesn’t matter whether I am busy, I am out of the city or I’m unavailable. Settlement day is settlement day, whether I win or lose.”

If the numbers are astounding on legal betting operations, they are only a drop in the ocean when it comes to what happens off the books. “Bhai sahib, agar aapko 28% tax dena ho, aap hamare saath kaam karoge ya website ke saath? (If you have to pay 28% tax, would you work with us or the website?).” I don’t have an answer to that question because I do not want my legs broken for defaulting payment and also because I do not bet, legally or illegally on cricket.

If you had some spare cash, a decent amount, would you put it on Afghanistan winning this World Cup? They’re at 80-1, and obviously a long shot, so perhaps best not. But, in 1983, India were 66-1, and they came through. Forget about winning, Afghanistan are still listed at 10-1 on making the final four.

The conversation over legalising betting on cricket and other sports is gaining momentum in India. But key questions remain unanswered. While corporates are lobbying for their voice to be heard, the alternate universe that thrives on betting being illegal is more than happy to take from the pocket and preserve their market.

On the legal betting websites you can take punts on the most odd things. Will someone hit six sixes in an over? That’s 25-1 if you like. Bhuvneshwar Kumar as player of the tournament, also 25-1. While you watch this World Cup, in the comfort of your home, perhaps keep your money in your pocket as forces much larger have run their algorithms, worked their magic, and found their mark.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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