Delhi’s illicit gambling and betting hubs continue to operate with impunity - The Probe

Delhi’s illicit gambling and betting hubs continue to operate with impunity

While different states in India have different laws related to gambling and betting, there is a need to enact a holistic central law and constitute a central institution to regulate betting and gambling activities in India

32-year-old Neeraj Sharma, a resident of Sangam Vihar in Delhi, committed suicide by shooting himself on February 2 this year. The family of Neeraj – his wife, four children and mother – were taken aback by the incident. They had no inkling about what was going on in his life except that Neeraj was depressed in the days preceding his death. According to his mother, he ate less, was less social and remained in his own shell weeks before his death. His death was riddled with assumptions and presumptions for the family, but no clear answer.

But for the Neb Sarai police officials in Sainik Farm in Delhi, the picture was clear as crystal. Neeraj Sharma was just one part of the huge puzzle they were trying to piece together. His suicide was due to his addiction to gambling and the subsequent losses that he endured.

Rakesh Devi, the mother of deceased Neeraj Sharma speaks to The Probe | Video courtesy: The Probe

“Something happened to him. I was scared that there may be police raids, so I asked him and his friends to not gamble inside our home. In our area, gambling is spreading like a deadly disease and destroying homes. Mine has already been destroyed. My son may have owed someone money or lost money in gambling. I don’t know why he shot himself, but later on, police disclosed to me that he was in debt due to illegal betting in Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad betting rackets as he had invested huge amounts and lost all his money,” said deceased Neeraj Sharma’s mother, Rakesh Devi.

According to the Delhi police, many like Neeraj are increasingly getting addicted to different forms of gambling, and online and offline betting in India. The Covid-19 lockdown induced job loss and severe financial burden are believed to be the reason for the increase in such cases.

Gambling in India is governed by The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under which both online and offline gambling activities are regulated in the country. But the law is old and still needs amendments in terms of catering to the present-day problems. India still lacks a coherent gambling and online and offline betting regulatory mechanism. Some states in India have framed their state-specific online gambling regulations. But India still needs a comprehensive central law to deal with this issue as, with time, newer types of gambling using different types of illegal online and offline modes are gaining momentum in the country today.

For instance, in Delhi NCR alone, several forms of gambling like Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad – the results of which are displayed online on Black Satta King, Satta Bazar, Satta Company and Satta Express – are very popular. Many online sites that operate illegal betting rackets are run from within India and carry on with their online activities with scant regard for Indian laws.

Gambling means betting or staking something of value where the player has the knowledge of the risks involved in the game and the hope of personal gain on the basis of the outcome of the game. Mostly the outcomes of a game of gambling are purely determined based on chance alone, and in some other cases, it may be determined by the player’s skill. Sometimes multiple factors may be involved, like a combination of a player’s skill, strategy, chance and luck.

Chandragupta, a gambler from Delhi speaks to The Probe | Video courtesy: The Probe

In the course of our investigation, we met several gamblers and punters involved in the Delhi NCR betting racket. Chandragupta, a gambler who regularly plays online and offline betting games, told us that the allure of the game entices both the poor and the elite in his neighbourhood.

In his interview, Chandragupta narrated how he lost large sums of money and his home to gambling. “I gamble a lot, and at one point, I was severely addicted, because of which I had to sell my house. When you initially win a game, it encourages you to place larger bets and take greater risks. During the lockdown, many more people started playing as they had free time, and they were under severe mental stress. I too, became a victim of this.”

For many like Chandragupta, the brush with gambling started with investing as less as ten rupees. “I still remember, one evening I was sitting outside my house in the neighbourhood, and three to four people came to me, and they started talking about lottery numbers. I got inquisitive, and I asked them how much one could earn in this kind of game. They told me that one could earn nine hundred rupees for as little as ten rupees. That completely got my attention. So, I first invested ten rupees in fifteen to twenty slots. I don’t know how, by fluke or by luck, somehow, fortunately, I received 900 rupees. I invested a hundred rupees and won nine hundred rupees. That is how I got initiated into gambling,” asserted Chandragupta.

The allure of the game is such that Chandragupta’s face lightened up when he said that there was a new game in the market called “South Delhi”, creating waves in the Delhi circle of gamblers and punters.

Advocate Naveen Badgujar, a lawyer based out of Delhi who handles gambling-related cases, said all these forms of gambling like Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad, South Delhi, Faridabad and others are illegal, but it is the nexus between the law enforcement agencies, the gamblers and the punters that are keeping these illicit activities alive.

“I have handled many gambling cases related to Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad type of gambling. Once the gambler is arrested, he either gives money to the police and is let off, or he goes to the court and pleads guilty. Once he pleads guilty, the fine that he pays is just a hundred rupees. Even if he is a repeat offender, he can still pay the same hundred rupees fine and get away. So, if the law is so lenient, then where is the question of the offenders having a fear of the law?” asks Naveen.

Many legal experts agree that the Public Gambling Act of 1867 needs a complete revision, and the punishment related to these forms of gambling must be made more severe to stop these offenders from indulging in such illegal activities.

“If you go to the websites of many places where the results are announced and where these gambling operations are carried out, you will find that these websites are operated within India, and they are running with impunity. Why are these websites still thriving? Why are they not being banned or blocked? I had handled a similar case where the police had conducted a raid in a room in Madangir and arrested around fifteen to twenty gamblers in Delhi. Four to five of them apparently gave money to the police and escaped, and the rest fifteen of them were booked by the police. I am handling that case, and I know what the outcome is. They will plead guilty, and they will be fined hundred rupees each, and after a few months, I will not be surprised if the same set of people get re-arrested for the same crime. Such is the poor legal state of affairs of our country when it comes to gambling and betting,” added Naveen.

The fact that the gamblers don’t face harsh fines or punishment makes gambling a difficult activity to put a curb on. Gambling has led to a lot of crimes in the Delhi NCR region. Many parts of the national capital have reported various crimes related to gambling. In 2020, a 25-year-old man who had objected to young individuals gambling in his area was stabbed to death in front of his sister.

“The gamblers and punters are also getting very territorial in nature. Recently, there was another case where a punter was murdered in South Delhi’s Madangir as a competing punter in the same area objected to the former establishing his gambling business there. In fact, the important thing about this incident is that juveniles were used to murder the punter. These punters usually use juveniles to carry out such crimes because they know that the juveniles don’t get harsh punishment. So, gambling is not just an illegal game. It is often the root cause of various other serious criminal offences,” asserted Naveen.

While gambling has already destroyed many homes, gamblers and punters have admitted to The Probe that such large gambling rackets cannot be run without the tacit understanding from some law enforcement officials.

When asked if he fears being caught by the police, Chandragupta said, “What is there to worry about? In every locality, people are playing. Nowadays, people even play on their phones. They are using WhatsApp to play. They are using Paytm services to transfer and collect money. Everyone is making complete use of electronic mediums. It is so widely prevalent that there is no need to be fearful. I can tell you that without the Delhi police’s knowledge, such types of games cannot be played on a large scale.


Brajesh, a punter from Delhi speaks to The Probe | Video courtesy: The Probe

Many Indian states have enacted their own state laws to govern betting and gambling. The Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887 was an old law brought in to consolidate and amend the law to prevent gambling in Bombay. The West Bengal Gambling and Prize Competition Act of 1957 was enacted by the West Bengal government to consolidate and amend the laws related to the prevention of gambling and provide for the control and regulation of prize competitions.

The Kerala Gaming Act of 1960 was enacted to make better provisions for the punishment of gaming and the keeping of common gaming houses in the state of Kerala. The Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act of 1976 was enacted by the legislative assemblies of Goa, Daman and Diu to provide for the punishment of public gambling and the keeping of common gaming houses in Union Territories of Goa, Daman and Diu. However, Goa and Sikkim have also legalised many forms of betting and gambling.

The website of the Sikkim government related to online gambling reads: “In order to generate more government revenue for the State, the Sikkim online games & sports gaming was introduced by the State of Sikkim in the year 2015-2016. The concept of the game is to be played through intranet (terminals), which cannot traverse outside the State of Sikkim. To regulate Sikkim online games & sports gaming, the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Act, 2008 and the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Amendments Act, 2009 were introduced.”

Regarding Casino Games, the government states: “In the State of Sikkim, two numbers of casino licences have been issued to the hotels having 5-star hotel facilities under the Sikkim Casino Games (Control & Tax) Act, 2002. The casino licence is normally issued on the basis of fulfilment of criteria laid down. Apart from revenue collection from online gaming, sports gaming & casinos, this sector has been able to generate more employment for the locals.”

After Sikkim and Nagaland, Meghalaya will now become the third state in the northeast to legalise both online and offline gambling. The Taxation Minister of the state had recently stated that the government has enacted the Gaming Act following which the Gaming Rules 2021 will facilitate the issuing of licences to operators to conduct games of skill and chance in both online and offline gaming versions.

The Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill, 2022 which was introduced in the Loksabha on April 1, 2022, aims to introduce a regulatory mechanism for online gambling irrespective of whether it is a game of skill or chance. The Bill also envisages creating a centralised agency to regulate online gaming. However, the Bill may face stiff resistance as gambling has been a state subject in India, and the states may take offence to the creation of a central regulatory authority.

While the loopholes in the law need to be plugged, many punters in Delhi say that gambling and betting is thriving in the national capital. During the course of our story, we spoke to Brajesh, a punter in Delhi, regarding the Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and the South Delhi gambling rackets. According to Brajesh, many people place their bets with small sums as little as 10, 20 or 100 rupees. “They are putting very small sums, but we have many people putting in money. That is how the profits come. Since these people come on their own, we cannot stop them. We get our orders through backchannel sources. We do not know their names or their numbers. But, we still make them play irrespective of whether they put in 100, 50 or 10 rupees.”

According to Brajesh, most people place their bets on Faridabad, Gali and Ghaziabad games. Brajesh boasts of an extensive range of clientele. “I have all kinds of clients. Starting from labourers to middle class people, from poor to the rich, from government servants to people in the private sector, everybody is getting addicted to these games,” quips Brajesh.

Like Chandragupta and Advocate Naveen Badgujar, Brajesh also admits the involvement of the police. “Police are also involved. This kind of large-scale gambling activity cannot happen without the blessings of the police.”

We spoke to senior officials within the Delhi police, who outrightly rejected these allegations as baseless. According to Chinmoy Biswal, Delhi Police DCP, the Delhi Police has been on a constant vigil, raids are being conducted, and offenders are being nabbed.

“So far, 6,291 people were arrested in over 2,400 cases of gambling in 2020 and 2,414 cases of gambling were registered across the national capital in the same year. These numbers are indicative of the action of the Delhi Police in these gambling and betting-related matters,” said Biswal.

Nevertheless, it is a harsh reality that the Delhi Police still does not have a record of the numbers related to the Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad betting rackets. The police are yet to identify the actual masterminds behind these betting rackets in the national capital.

Dhanu Singh, who originally hails from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, is a resident of Sangam Vihar in Delhi. Singh takes people’s bets on Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad. “It is only after the Covid-19 induced lockdown that people started playing these games more. Especially during Covid-19, many gambling hotspots have mushroomed in various places in Delhi. People who lost their jobs, poor people like mechanics, labourers, housemaids, cooks, auto drivers and others constantly come to me to place bets. The best part of this kind of traditional gambling is that the law enforcement agencies are not bothered as the money involved in these is significantly less. Usually, when caught, the offenders get released on bail with a simple fine.”

Daulat Ram, who has been gambling for many decades, continues to place his bets at the age of seventy-five. He says, “In 1955, I used to play Satta, but all these Gali, Desawar, Ghaziabad and Faridabad names didn’t exist then. During that time, it was called “matka”, meaning a clay pot and in a matka, people would put a closed slip with a number and their names. By the evening, every day, a child would be asked to pick up one slip, and whichever one gets picked, that slip’s owner is announced as the winner”.

Weak anti-gambling legislation in India, the lack of awareness amongst people regarding the harmful effects of gambling, and the growing emergence of newer and popular games make it challenging for law enforcement agencies to tackle the crime. While different states in India have different laws related to gambling and betting, there is a need to enact a holistic central law and constitute a central institution to regulate betting and gambling activities in India. But for this to materialise, the government will need political consensus and support from states.

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