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Asia

Big market, bigger bets: Are India's bookies behind Pakistan's match fixing scandal?

After three Pakistani cricketers were suspended following a match fixing allegation, the investigation has now shifted focus to India, the largest revenue base for cricket and a money spinner for betting buffs.

Pak cricket captain Salman Butt: part of the racket

Pak cricket captain Salman Butt: part of the racket

British police have questioned Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Amir over the alleged betting scam. An expose by a London tabloid showed an agent accepting money in return for details about the timing of three pre-arranged so-called no-balls by Pakistani bowlers in the just concluded test match in England. The scandal has also turned the spotlight on Indian betting syndicates who continue to rule the roost.

When Pakistani middleman Mazhar Majeed was caught on camera accepting 150,000 pounds (185,000 euros) for manipulating events within a match between Pakistan and England, he claimed to be working for Indian bookies.

Betting is big

Considering that India is the motor that drives world cricket and according to estimates accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the game's global revenues, many are not surprised by his claim. Investigators regard India as a hotbed for betting syndicates and match-fixers.

The second suspect: Mohammad Amir

The second suspect: Mohammad Amir

M. A. Ganapathy, a senior police officer who has investigated the nexus between bookies and cricketers, says: "Betting is very common in India. It is common knowledge that even in small towns, cricket betting is very big. It is run by syndicates centered elsewhere, mostly in the big cities of India and sometimes abroad. The betting syndicate is very big. Spot fixing was always more rampant, they would approach individual players and try to win them over for little things, like what happened the other day with the Pakistani players."

In India, the maximum penalty for a player who is involved in match fixing may be a ban for life. He will not face criminal prosecution, whereas the fixer risks receiving a fine. But none of them will do time in prison.

An illegal addiction

Betting is in fact illegal in India except at horse races. But Virat Saxena, who was investigated for his role during the match-fixing scandal in 2000 says there is no stopping the growth of illegal bookies because of the sheer volume of money. "So you can’t curb it, because it is like a drug which has been injected into youngsters, ladies, middle class and the old people.

Mohammad Asif: Guilty as charged?

Mohammad Asif: Guilty as charged?

"It is spreading like wildfire and the money is huge now. You can’t count the money involved because it runs to the tune of billions during a tournament or match."

Several matches of the hugely popular Indian Premier League have also come under the scanner. The money-spinning Twenty20 cricket league is currently under investigation by India's federal enforcement directorate and the Income Tax Department for financial irregularities and even match-fixing.

Manipulating matches abroad

K Madhavan, a former joint director of the Central Bureau of Investigation who probed the match-fixing scandal that finally led to life bans and others punishments for Indian cricketers says Indian bookies are likely to be involved in manipulating matches abroad as well: "India is the country with the largest population among all cricket playing countries and where the public interest is the highest, and we have the highest number of bookies, too. So it is inconceivable that Indian bookies will not be active when matches are played elsewhere."

Cricket authorities have been shocked by the latest incident but also know the problem of corruption in cricket will not stop any time soon. This is partly because the risks are minimal and fixers do not leave behind a paper trail.

Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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