The recent crackdown on betting rackets and makeshift casinos in Delhi-NCR has driven the city's gambling business to take the virtual route. The operators are increasingly using digital platforms and online apps, hosted outside the country, to hold chancegame events amid a closed, members-only community.
The weeks ahead of Diwali are considered the peak season for gambling when playing cards or other luck games is considered auspicious by many, swelling the number of players manifold. Operators create exclusive clubs online where clients can place their bets in real time and the money is collected offline the following day. "We have inputs about gambling agents who are sharing links with businessmen of Delhi-NCR to play card games online and huge money is being traded each night," a senior Delhi Police official told Mail Today.
"Earlier, they used to rent a farmhouse or bungalow for organising poker, card-based games, and roulette around the festival of Diwali but now these agents are using digital covers for their operations." The official admitted that it is difficult to crack down on online players as most of the websites are hosted abroad. "There are several roadblocks, which includes getting a log from the said app or site operator. Simultaneous raids at individual houses and gathering technical evidence are other impediments," the police officer said.
Experts said apps like PPpoker gives an option of hosting the card game where local players can be invited through their social media page. There are other websites likes 888casino, Williams Hill and 1xbet that offer popular live casino games. These sites have gained heavy tractions lately, they point out.
Confirming the spike, UP Police Special Task Force (STF) additional superintendent Triveni Singh said, "Playing chance-based games, including card and number games on the online platform, is increasing as general perception is that it is legit. It is not. We have received specific inputs and based on that we are tracking traffic going to popular gambling and betting sites. We have solid leads of some of the major operators."
Explaining the modus operandi, one of the legal casino operators from Goa told MAILTODAY that agents create their own playing arena on global sites. "Gambling agents have a closed group of players and no outsider is invited. Only people with references can place the stakes. The confirmation about the invite comes at the eleventh hour and the link to the gaming arena is shared through WhatsApp or other such messaging apps," the operator explained.
"Players use an allotted nickname and there is no transaction of real money. Only points and credit score codes are provided. After the end of each game, the credit score is noted and the next day an agent goes and collect the money from the players," the operator said. Police officials estimate that each year during Diwali, over Rs 1,000 crore are pumped in "illegal gambling" in the national Capital.
As these games involve cash, it attracts a lot of unaccounted money. But experts say these figures are just a tip of the iceberg as underground gambling is multi-billion industry in those Indian states where betting is illegal. Gambling is prohibited in a 'common gaming house' when there is an element of commercial motive for the organisers.
However, gambling in a private enclosure where there is no invitation to members of the public and no element of 'profit or gain', is not illegal. While popularity of digital gambling is rising, experts say the traditional ways remain popular as ever. "I don't see traditional ways of betting going down. Players still like to sit across the table with real players, read their expression and place their bets with adrenalin rush," said Jay Sayta, a researcher in gambling laws and founder of GLaws.in, a gaming laws web portal.
"But yes, a large number of people have also moved online. With dedicated forums to host gambling games to live casinos, Indians are playing it all." Jay said it is tough for law enforcement agencies to keep a check on offline and online gambling. "Gambling is a bailable offence and hence not a deterrence.
Laws related to gambling are quite old and do not cover the online part of it. While IT laws can be applied on gamble offenders, it is still tough for cops to catch the online operator, agents or players," said Sayta. Recently, cops arrested a suspended Gurugram Police head constable for allegedly running an illegal casino in the upscale South City-I colony. Cops also arrested 41 people, including city businessmen and four women. Meanwhile, All India Gaming Federation has demanded making skillbased games legal.
"The casino business has huge potential as it can generate revenue for the state. Black money is involved in it as it is not legal. As soon as a state decides to legalise and regulate it, many corporates will come forward to operate it professionally," said Roland Landers, CEO AIG.