May 22, 2013

Fixing? It's people like us doing it

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

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok 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!.

  • Ashok 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!

  • Keith 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.

  • Kannan 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.

  • Robert on May 23, 2013, 19:53 GMT

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

  • Dummy4 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%!

  • Jerry on May 23, 2013, 18:07 GMT

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

  • Robert 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.

  • ian 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.

  • RASBIHARI 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.

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