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Fixing? It's people like us doing it

It's convenient to blame the underworld for every instance of cricket fixing, but it's ordinary punters who are behind many of them

Ed Hawkins

May 22, 2013

Comments: 21 | Text size: A | A

Cricket fans in Bangalore stage a protest after news of the spot-fixing scandal broke, IPL 2013, Bangalore, May 16, 2013
The recent spot-fixing allegations have revived the discussions about the underground betting network in India © AFP

In late 2011 and 2012 I met with some of India's illegal bookmakers, stayed in their homes, ate with their families, attended cricket matches with them, watched - and helped - them take bets.

"You were brave," many people say. "Did you not fear for your life?" The answer is the same each time. "No, they were perfectly charming."

Ah, but that is all part of the act, you might say. They are skilled manipulators, those bookies; one minute a flashing smile, the next a flashing blade. And so it has been following the allegations about three Rajasthan players having indulged in spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League.

It is de rigueur these days when such a story breaks that attention is immediately turned on India's underworld, the mafia dons who cajole players into performing favours on the pitch. If they don't put up their side of the bargain, threats and intimidation follow. D Company, the mafia organisation run by the infamous Dawood Ibrahim, usually gets a mention. Then the stock phrase "Once a player is in, he can't get out" trips off the tongue.

But is that really true? Are there players who fear for their life if they fail to concede a certain number of runs off an over? It is possible, but there is evidence that suggests that the underworld grip that threatens to choke a player is a convenient excuse for those caught with their hands in the till.

The "fix" of the sort that Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila have been accused of is, in polite terms, chicken feed to D Company. They are far more interested in organising match results, where returns are incomparable to those from spot-fixing. This smacks of a low level scam, summed up succinctly by Vinay, a bookie from Bhopal. "We are trying to make our living in a corrupt country, and we do this by taking any opportunity we can," he says.

Quite. The average Indian bookmaker is nothing if not an opportunist, and it is that personality trait, rather than a tendency for violence, that plays a part in fixes. It is an unpalatable truth for cricket that any bookmaker, or punter, given access to a player, can organise a fix without using the word "mafia" or whispering the name "Dawood". Yes, there is an organised crime network at play but the majority of corruption attempted is by small groups of ordinary folk.

To understand why spot-fixing can be so easy to organise is to understand how the illegal Indian gambling market operates, and therefore how it can be manipulated.

There are estimated to be more than 70,000 bookmakers in India. Despite it being unregulated, it is highly organised and works much like a legalised system. In England the big four bookmakers might be considered to be William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet365 and Coral. Each of those bookies sets their own odds, and supplies them to the managers of their shops dotted all around the country.

In India there are four big bookmakers, known as the syndicates. Two have their roots in Delhi and the others in Mumbai and Nagpur. Each of those bookies sets their own odds and supplies them to managers around the country. These "managers" - in actual fact they are bookmakers themselves - who take bets from their customers are ranked by the size of their customer base. First-tier bookmakers have up to or more than 1000. A fourth-tier bookmaker might have only 20 or 30. Like a franchise arrangement, the "managers" pay for the goods supplied.

There are, though, two significant differences between the English and Indian models. The first is that whereas Hill's and Ladbrokes might offer a wide variety of bets, in India you can only bet on four outcomes: the match result, the innings runs, brackets (a certain number of runs to be scored in a certain number of overs), and what is known as the lunch favourite. The lunch favourite is where the customer is offered a bet on following the team that is the favourite at the lunch break or innings break.

The second is that where Hill's will offer different prices from Ladbrokes for each of their various segments in an IPL match, the Indian system will be almost uniform; the majority of bookmakers will be using the same prices. One set of odds for only four markets, with each syndicate doing its share of the work.

Each of those four syndicates has their own area of expertise. The top Delhi syndicate will look after betting before a ball has been bowled, providing odds pre-match. When the game starts, its work generally stops. The other syndicate connected to Delhi, known as the Shibu, operates the brackets odds. The Mumbai syndicate will take care of the ball-by-ball betting for match odds and innings runs. The fourth, the Nagpur syndicate, is a rival to the Mumbai operation.

So we have a swathe of bookmakers all using the same odds. It is the perfect environment for corruption.

However, it is not an exact science and the anatomy of fixes and the perpetrators can differ. Indeed, Vinay, who is a first-tier bookmaker and close to the syndicate kingpins, estimates that half of all fixes are organised by bookmakers, the rest by run-of-the-mill punters - any Tom, Dick, or Hari who has a relationship with a player.

There are estimated to be more than 70,000 bookmakers in India. Despite it being unregulated, it is highly organised and works much like a legalised system

The most obvious fixes can come right from the top of the tree: the syndicates, who some believe take their orders from D Company. If a syndicate has organised for a team to lose or paid a bowler to concede a certain number of runs, they can supply "fake" odds to the tens of thousands of bookmakers, influencing millions of gamblers to bet the way they want them to.

If we use a bowler agreeing to concede more than 13 runs an over as an example, the ability to coin the crores from market manipulation is clear. The bracket, normally set for the first six overs in an IPL match, is an over-or-under bet. The syndicate will estimate that, say, between 42 and 45 runs will be scored. Gamblers will reckon it will be lower/higher and bet accordingly.

Before a ball has been bowled the syndicate would have set the bracket, usually for the number of runs in the first six overs, at a figure that punters would have reckoned was too high, tricking them into going low. It is an artful fraud and not 100% foolproof because of the need to get the "fake" bracket quote right from the start.

If the syndicate was not in on the fix then it would have been created by a group of bookmakers who had decided to operate outside of the system. According to sources in the illegal market, this is the most likely scenario in the current case. This theory holds water, given the raft of bookmakers arrested. They could have manipulated the odds in exactly the same way a syndicate would, by convening what is known as a "party", a group of bookmakers who have agreed to pool resources and maximise profits.

Another option would have been for this "party" to become punters for the day, and place multiple bets (the average bet in India dwarfs those in markets where betting is legal, and is estimated at Rs 100,000 or around $1800) by going "over" the brackets, cosseted by their arrangement with the crooked player. They would have roped in friends and family to place the wagers with as many bookies as possible. This is the method used by an ordinary punter with inside information, proving that you don't need to be a bookmaker to fix a match.

What links punter and bookmaker - and there is a relative war for inside information on the illegal markets with one trying to outdo the other - is the acceptance that both are taking a risk. They know that, still, this is a gamble. A bet. Circumstances may conspire against them, so the profligate over organised or the maiden ordered may not transpire. If not, the player pays back the money. Call it honour among thieves.

Ed Hawkins is the three-time SJA Sports Betting Writer of the Year. He is the author of Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld, the 2013 Wisden Book of the Year

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Nampally on (May 26, 2013, 0:14 GMT)

Mr. Hawkins, you have presented the results of your excellent Research on this subject-Thanks. I am sure this information would have been available to both the Indian Govt. & BCCI. I am also sure that there is an anti-corruption body whose duty is to eliminate this Mafia. This seems to be similar to that in drugs where a well organised group with leaders at all levels controls the flow of drugs & Money. In the western countries it is a major problem & Billions of dollars of drugs are caught & drug lords are being eliminated. India needs to take the western model in dealing with "spot fixing" with heavy sentences for the groups caught in the process. Amongst the Cricketing Nations, New Zealand & Australia are amongst the top 10 clean Nations with least corruptible record with scores of 85 to 90%. UK is around 74% & India at 36%. Even Barbados at 76% scores higher than India. Pakistan & Bangla Desh are much worse than India. This should be an eye opener to one & All!.

Posted by Nampally on (May 24, 2013, 21:03 GMT)

"Trying to make a Living in a Corrupt country" says it all. There seems to be hierarchy of well organised Mafia who are exploiting weak individual characters whether it be players, Betting public or the law enforcers. Money drives everything in this world especially where honest hard work is poorly rewarded. Hence every body wants a short cut to riches. To start with the players with weak characters, are first to get caught with their hands in the till. How to combat this weakness & greed for money & short cut to Riches? This is the question which exists & haunts the people at all levels, in countries with high level of corruption. If you look at the world Index for corruption amongst various countries, you get a clear picture. The higher the Ranking #, higher is the level of corruption in the country.For example New Zealand, Finland are given Ranking Index of 1- i.e. the least corrupt countries. India has a ranking Index of 95 out of 175 countries surveyed- Correction starts there!

Posted by Kirk-at-Lords on (May 24, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

It is certainly true that the tendency is for humans to bet on lots of things, for some betting to be legally sanctioned, and some to be classified as illegal. MUST humans bet? No! My religion prohibits it; as a true believer, I honour that requirement. So do nearly all of my fellow believers. We may be a tiny minority compared to the world population (who isn't!), but we definitely exist. I love the cricket, and support it through media subscriptions I pay to watch. That becomes part of the flow of media money that genuinely and legitimately floats the sport. Only if franchises or franchise personnel bet illegally does any betting revenue float the sport. So there is a critical need to build a firewall between betting and cricket. If people choose to bet, it must not pollute the sport. That requires strong constitutional + legal language, giving rise to institutions with strong teeth and jaws. Hence the need for a cricketing constitutional convention to save the sport.

Posted by yogikanna on (May 24, 2013, 1:16 GMT)

Great article, but please stay safe. I once met a guy who claimed to have met a top underworld don. He told me that the underworld don was very funny and charming. This didn't mean that he wasn't a cold blooded murderer. Please don't fall for their charm. The people who place bets (and lose money) may be common people, but The people who run this on the top (and make money) are first rate criminals.

Posted by jackthelad on (May 23, 2013, 19:53 GMT)

It is not 'people like us', it is criminals who do this. Get your head in gear.

Posted by   on (May 23, 2013, 18:39 GMT)

Seems to me that the gov of India is missing out a huge potential source of revenue. Why not legalise/licence betting, and charge a betting tax of .05%!

Posted by JerryV on (May 23, 2013, 18:07 GMT)

Eye-opening. Please keep safe. They may be charming, but they are slick operators.

Posted by jackthelad on (May 23, 2013, 14:05 GMT)

There seems to be some confusion here, both in the article itself and in many of the responses. Fixing is done by people who are prepared to break the law in order to make a little money, not by people who like a flutter (and certainly not by people like me, since I have never placed a bet in my life - did you ever see a rich punter or a poor bookie?); equally, betting may be a big part of Indian culture - it is of many - but 'betting' does not mean 'fixing'. Special pleading helps no-one and nothing.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (May 23, 2013, 12:01 GMT)

latecut_04: I think it would be advisable to do some internet research before posting! The population of India is currently estimated as 1.27 billion & the UK is approx 56.1 million (India's pop. is therefore c 23 x that of UK) & when it comes to corruption, the best place you can go is to Transparency International, where you'll discover that India is ranked 94/174 countries & the UK is 17th. As your figures are plucked out of the sky, there is no accurate conclusion possible from them. I am sure that you are interested to know the most accurate info available, so I do urge you to get an proper perspective on this matter. Is India a corrupt country? That is a comparative question, so when you've studied the figures & made all the comparisons you want, you'll be able to find out for yourself. Best wishes.

Posted by ras on (May 23, 2013, 3:47 GMT)

We can blame bookmakers, administrators, players, police, underworld ad-infinitum.

But I think the biggest culprits/fools are the punters/people who bet on events which can be manipulated by human beings. It is a stupid thing to bet on something which can be easily manipulated. But I think roots of this betting also lie in prevalent corruption in India. Some corrupt people are left with lot of black money, for which they don't have any other avenue to spend. So they invest it in illegal betting.

Posted by zesh92 on (May 23, 2013, 2:19 GMT)

Least to say is that spot fixing can't be stopped

Posted by AlpineWalker on (May 22, 2013, 15:08 GMT)

In India, betting takes place on almost everything. They bet on weather, they bet on politics, they bet on movies and they bet on cricket. There are a lot of people with a lot of black money and they play the game of betting. The problem is for the small small fry who get into those circles and lose all their money. They just want to show off that they too can match the big boys and then get ripped off. Even after legalising betting, this will happen. I have seen people who do not know anything about cricket talking such crap when watching a match and place bets for the same. This is a vicious unending cycle.

Posted by inswing on (May 22, 2013, 13:01 GMT)

Very informative article. Legalizing betting is the only way to go. If most money goes to the open and regulated markets, there is not enough left for the underground ones. There is no guarantee that the legal bookies won't try to arrange fixes either, but if they are out in the open, they are easier to scrutinize and control. The thing is, you don't need to arrange fixes to make money as a bookmaker. The system of odds is designed to automatically generate money for "the house" over a period of time. That's how casinos make money by the truckload, without doing anything illegal. So if betting were to be made legal, with harsh penalty and scrutiny, fixing can be reduced or even stamped out.

Posted by Gurram on (May 22, 2013, 12:24 GMT)

Spot fixing can be done by paying or intimidating a single bowler. So all players must be monitored so that spot fixing can be prevented. Outcome of a match cannot be fixed, it invovles 11+11 = 22 players consent or atleast 4-5 players in a team or a captain who asks his worst bowler to bowl full quota. So prevent spot fixing, game fixing takes care of itself.

Posted by   on (May 22, 2013, 12:20 GMT)

Just because people in India bet on cricket, does not make them "corrupt". Gambling happens in all walks of life. The stock market, the futures market, the options market and derivatives are all examples of betting. All these markets can and are manipulated. Casinos and state run lottery are other examples. The need to "strike it big" is a universal human need.

Let us be clear on who can be called "corrupt". The people who manipulate -- bookies -- and the players who are partners in crime them are the "corrupt" people. The rest are "victims". Look at Enron, Look at Bernie Madoff and look at the people who created the "sub prime" mortgages in the US. They are all running scott free.

So I urge people to get a perspective.

Posted by latecut_04 on (May 22, 2013, 10:16 GMT) population in india is estimated to be 125 million....Out of f this may be there are thousands of illegal bookies. In England may be 100s of them exist out of a 40 million or so. actually this should be gauged percentage wise(illegal market share).this is by no means an attempt to justify spot/match fixing, illegal betting and the like but just pointing out a fact .Also spare a thought for 25-30 million Indians who are god fearing, obey the rules, educated professionals/entrepreneurs and pay taxes regularly.(I for one belong to that class, have no choice Tax is deducted from my salary.)India should NOT be noted only for corruption, murky deals ,IPL goons and slums. and of course the guilty(both players and the plotters )should be punished.Hope the point gets noted.

Posted by latecut_04 on (May 22, 2013, 9:24 GMT)

An exact description of how bookies and betting operate to a large extent in India. But has anyone given a thought regarding india's HUGE population before branding it a 'corrupt' country. contd

Posted by Zaheerahmed on (May 22, 2013, 6:46 GMT)

Excellent piece showing the darker side of how cricket is played in India.

Posted by criteek on (May 22, 2013, 6:38 GMT)

Article doesnt justify betting effecting the game but presents the case of the bookies. Are we fine with gullible players playing a role in fixing, albeit that the bookies are smart to identify if one is trying to outdo the other?... majority of the viewers of the game are non punters. We can in no manner justify the manipulations by bookies in IPL (of any form), if so then IPL has to be marketed as a staged show and not as a cricket tournament that we know.

Posted by ashok16 on (May 22, 2013, 6:19 GMT)

Interesting. But more interesting is why people still bet on cricket in India, knowing the likelihood of it being fixed is high. For example if people know the stock market is prone to manipulation, they wouldnt put their money there. Which is true with stock market in India - investment rates are much lower as people arent quite convinced things are fair in the Indian market. So, why is cricket gambling the exception?

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (May 22, 2013, 5:24 GMT)

Betting is always on outcomes. The way the outcome swings will determine how much money is made or lost. Why is it surprising therefore that people will definitely try to influence the outcomes, once the stakes are big enough? Betting needs to be banned. It's the fodder of people who are connected directly or indirectly to criminals. As long as there is no effort to clean up, there will always be efforts by vested interests to legalise and rationalise illegality and indeed humanise it. Such people come from different walks of life and wear different cloaks of social responsibility and respectability. But they are all the same. They will ultimately corrupt society even more rather than take part in cleansing it. The Indian people are still relatively clean, but such elements will only dash hopes and instill hopelessness in keeping the system clean. Bollywood has criminal nexus. So do politicians. Cricket can be cleansed only be keeping both out of cricket and cricket administration!

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