Delhi gamblers hedge illegal bets on COVID-19

By Hayley Grammer

While many gamers anxiously await the return of local and international sports, illegal betting circles in Delhi have taken matters into their own hands, with punters waging bets on statistical predictions linked to the pandemic.

COVID-19 betting has grown in popularity among Indian customers looking to fill the void left by the global shutdown of the sporting industry, with bets now being placed on the dates and contours of the lockdown, infection rates and death tolls. These bets are often placed through surreptitious phone calls to syndicates running illicit betting markets, also known as the ‘satta bazaar’.

While the country allows for legal betting on horse-racing, all other forms of public gambling are banned. Delhi Police commissioner SN Shrivastava said that units of the force were keeping a watch on such illegal networks.

“We do not know how the nature of betting has exactly changed after the pandemic, but the Delhi Police are showing no laxity in cracking down on any crime network. Our teams are monitoring all cyber operations to check for any illegal activity,” said Shrivastava.

Despite this, the International Centre for Sports Security in Doha estimates the illegal betting market in India at $150 billion annually, including $200 million bet on every One Day International Cricket match played by the Indian cricket team.

Under the nationwide lockdown, which began on March 25, large gatherings including social, political, religious and sporting events were banned, as well as the much anticipated Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament, which had been due to start on 29 March.

Since the first phase of lockdown coincided with IPL, gamblers found the COVID-19 statistics to put their money on. However, considering the predictability and ease of availability of these numbers, many bookies have set minimum betting amounts and insist that all transactions be made in cash.

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