Andrew Alderson: Odds are Games caused bet wave

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New Zealand athletes were probably not the target of illegal bettors - but some would have been unwitting parts of a multi-million dollar betting wave during the Commonwealth Games.

Illegal betting was a regular feature. Indians are permitted to gamble only on horse racing, or at a handful of official casino hotels in the Goa and Sikkim states.

The Herald on Sunday spoke to a source associated with the bookmaking community. He said popular Indian sports, notably wrestling, badminton, hockey and table tennis, were targets for local rupees.

The 61-year-old, who lives near Nehru stadium but did not want to be named, said the system was also rife with betting on other sports. In fact, of India's estimated $80 billion a year gambling industry, half is understood to be illegal. The Times of India newspaper estimates around $27 million can be wagered on a single one-day cricket international between India and Pakistan.

That does not mean Commonwealth athletes were ushered into clandestine corners to chat to men in dark suits with heavy briefcases and offered the chance to spot fix. Instead punters would simply go through the usual process of ringing a bookmaker by phone and then request the odds for a Games event rather than a horse race.

A bookie's intermediary would take the gambler's money and return winnings if successful. There are no face-to-face meetings; it is purely verbal and, ironically, run under an honesty system.

Examples of odds on offer included Indian badminton player Sania Nehwal paying over 2:1 to win the women's singles. She did.

The Australian men's hockey team were rated a 1.40:1 chance to win the gold over India. The New Zealand hockey teams may also have been the subject of wagers.

Sushil Kumar, India's world champion wrestler and the final torchbearer at the opening ceremony, was almost unbackable to win gold. He proved bookies right, pinning his opponent in nine seconds.

If discovered, the fines are not steep. That is provided there is no evidence of match-fixing and both parties can offer details of their dealings for the tax department. The punishments range from an arrest, warning and suspended sentence to 15-30 days in the cells for a serial offender.

The source suggested life as a bookmaker, legal or illegal, is a popular career. "You don't need much infrastructure to set it up: just a telephone, a tiny room and an intermediary."

While spot-fixing might have been desirable for a crooked bookmaker at the Games, it would have been hard to set up, especially with potential Indian champions. Companies who had medallists as employees offered huge bonuses because of the goodwill generated by having such an athlete on staff.

One example was Indian Railways whose employees took 13 of the host nation's 38 gold medals. They paid 10 lakhs (one million rupees or $30,000) to gold medallists. The average Indian wage according to the Times of India is 44,000 rupees ($1320). A promotion is also a guaranteed part of the deal.

Added to that is the lack of intimate knowledge regarding sports other than cricket.

Lynn Deas, the editor of Racing World magazine based in Mumbai, says she cannot understand why the Government does not legalise sports betting as they do for horses. Governments see the concept as potentially ruinous to the fabric of Indian society because it takes money from families. But gambling occurs regardless.

"Behind the scenes, [the gambler and bookmaker] are subject to being caught, so they operate secretly. They bet on anything from sport to weather to crops to international events.

"People should be able to legally bet on cricket for starters because billions of rupees would go into Government coffers and redistributed back into the community."

There is a school of thought that legalising betting could reduce match or spot-fixing because it could be regulated like racing. There would also be less incentive to cheat because of tax department monitoring.

- NZ Herald

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