The steel-grey Mahindra Bolero is parked in the darkness of the night near a small hillock surrounded by thorn bushes. Village lights flicker on the horizon like a swarm of fireflies fluttering at one spot. There’s a table with traditional Rajasthani woodwork set on the ground. Two folding chairs have been unfolded around it. I’m sitting on one of them, Naresh on the other, three mobile phones in his palm. His eyes dart across the open doors of the car, where on a drop-down screen he can see live the India-Pakistan ICC World Twenty20 match being played in Colombo.

He sips cola and munches on some snacks. Two of his associates are inside the vehicle, their eyes on the screen. Phones keep ringing, vibrating. They speak in numbers, as in a secret code where numbers mean words, and punch the keys on their laptops. A man’s voice crackles from a speaker in front of the Bolero. The voice, enveloped in static, has the comforting sound of a police radio on a regular night, when cops call each other to say everything is fine.

For the men of the Bolero this is not a regular night. This is the night they do business worth Rs 1,000 crore, a turnover reached in three-and-a-half hours. With phones, laptops, and the outcome of a cricket match played in another country. All sitting here in the wilderness.

A source in Sikar had introduced me to Naresh. Naresh is a “big player” in the region, I was told, when I said I wanted to understand the system of cricket betting in India. He was reluctant to meet me, but the source prevailed. One evening in Sikar, Naresh called the source.

Yes, he will meet me, he said and asks us to come to a restaurant in a hotel. He is waiting at the reception. Stocky, almost six feet tall, he’s wearing leather sandals, grey trousers, and an off-white shirt hanging outside them. With his overgrown beard he looks a little unkempt. He has a relaxed swagger. He’s come to the hotel on an old red Hero Honda Passion motorcycle.

He leads us to the table, right in the middle of the restaurant, shaking hands like a man who knows he’s in charge. “Toh bataiye Saab, kya jaanna chahte hain aap? (So what is you want to know, sir?),” looking at his mobile phone all the while. The phone rings. He speaks to someone, in a thick Shekhawati accent. When he looks up, his eyes go straight for the doors, which open and a boy walks in. Naresh reaches into his pocket and draws out a bundle of crisp Rs 1,000 notes and gives it to the boy, casually, as if he is tipping a waiter.

It is September 30, the day India plays Pakistan in the ICC World Twenty20 in the evening. It’s a big night for him, and I tell him I want to observe him as he goes about his business. I tell him I don’t have spy cams or recorders.

He says: “Agar hota toh bhi kuch nahi kar paate; hamaare bhi source hain sab jagah (They wouldn’t help in any case; we too have sources everywhere)”. He agreed to meet me, he says, only out of respect for my source, and the fact that “someone has travelled from Delhi just to meet me”.

“I’ll explain to you here itself,” he says, and takes out a pen from his front pocket and picks up a tissue paper. I ask him if it would be better to go upstairs to the room. He looks at the man sitting at the reception condescendingly and says, “Inki chinta mat kariye, is hotel ka maalik bhi satoriya hi hai. Regularly paise lagata hai apne paas (Don’t worry about these people, the owner of this hotel is a bettor himself. Regularly places bets with me).

He begins to scribble on the paper and talk, sipping the soft drink in between.

There are three major syndicates in world betting today, says Naresh. They are known as D, S and L, which stand for Dubai, Singapore and London. “You know what D also stands for,” he adds, referring to the betting syndicate run by India’s most-wanted Dawood Ibrahim, who is based in Pakistan but is said to run his businesses from Dubai and elsewhere. “These three bid for every tournament and decide the book for it.”

These are high stakes games, global in nature and running into “thousands of crores”. In case of losses made during a match or tournament, someone will have to pay up. It may be the small bookie, the big bookie or the petty punter, but the buck stops with the biggest of them all—the syndicate which is running the operation is also the one underwriting it.

They underwrite it to the tune of thousands of crores, this sum is called the “book” which is the total value of money that they can invite bids for. For this tournament the bid was won by D, he says.

He has finished his cola, and decides that’s enough with the questions and gets up to leave. He now sounds more open to the idea of having an observer at night when the match starts.

“I shall call you in half an hour and tell you whether or not it will be possible. In case it is, you will have to shift to the Nadeem hotel (name changed). The rooms there are a little expensive but more comfortable,” he says.

Agar nahi ho paya toh (If it does not work out), I’m sorry. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

He calls after an hour. “I have booked a room for you at the Nadeem hotel; take my name there and check in”. He had to convince his boss, which wasn’t easy.

Aap samajh sakte hain ki voh nahi chahenge ki koi journalist unke baare mein zyada jaane. (You can understand that he wouldn’t want a journalist to know too much about him),” he said.

“But he agreed when I said you are a relative of mine and would never write anything against him or me.”

I check in at Nadeem Hotel. Two hours later, I get a message: Naresh is waiting for me at the hotel’s bar. Two of his juniors, hired by his Jaipur-based boss on his recommendation—one of them is his nephew—are in an other room of the hotel handling the bets for the first match of the day. The first match isn’t that important, it isn’t India-Pakistan after all.

Ab main aapko thoda detail mein samjhata hun (I shall explain things to you in a little more detail now),” he says as some drinks arrive along with a notepad. “So when the bidding is done,” he starts off, making notes, in his neat handwriting. “D, S and L groups are all run by mafias or business groups. Before every tournament each syndicate decides the approximate sum they are going to bid for a tournament.

“These people, hundreds and hundreds of them Marwaris settled all over the world, especially those in England, the Khadi desh (Gulf countries), Africa, and East Asia and China come together under every syndicate.

“For example, someone in Malaysia will probably side with S or D rather than London; similarly, someone in Europe or American countries will probably prefer L. Members of these groups usually have legal business ties with each other while some others indulge purely in Hawala transactions for most deals—most prominent being D.

“Once D, S and L have decided upon their amounts, a simple bidding process takes place among them online; each tries to raise the price as much as possible. Since this time D won (ICC World Twenty20) the bid, all those who are part of S and L too contact their friends and sources who are part of the D group to place their bets.

“There is a commission every member who bets for someone else is entitled to. Many of them just commit the amounts and leave it to their friends to place bets on behalf of them. Then D contacts all its members one by one and asks them for their books, which means that every member commits a certain amount which he will bet. By this time the assal (the total amount) has already risen by many lakh crore since members of S and L are also pumping in money.”

These members in turn auction their books to sub-bookies. For instance, Naresh’s boss has a book of Rs 10,000 crore, which he has divided among ten subordinates, each of whom manages Rs 1,000 crore. “I am one such person; I hire some under me for minimum cuts across the length and breadth of Rajasthan, especially Sikar and areas of Shekhawati. Many with decent money, like local businessmen, place bets directly with me while some place them with the people whom I have hired or trust and allow to bet.”

And so the pie gets divided, the pieces get smaller—Dubai-India-Mumbai-Rajasthan-Jaipur-Sikar—and men like Naresh get crumbs worth Rs 1,000 crore. He can sprinkle the crumbs among his men, a lakh here, a lakh there.

Ab samajh gaye aap? (You understand now).”

How does D decides the odds of the games? Odds that are passed across the world, odds that give Naresh a chance to play with Rs 1,000 crore sitting in a chair near a hillock in the night.

There’s a logic behind this—D’s logic—a mumbo jumbo of cricket stats, performances, perceptions, and the way the bidding war for the tournament played out. Every possibility in cricket has a price. Number of no-balls in an over, number of wides in an over, number of runs in an over, fours, sixes—everything that a player can possibly do on the field. These are “spot fixes”, specific instances which are inevitable in the ordinary run of the play in cricket.

The teams playing and their rivalry all influence the “bet rate”. “Now, India versus Pakistan is obviously a big match. Log daba ke satta lagate hain (people bet a lot),” he says. India has never lost to Pakistan in a World Cup match and so a lot of people will put their money on India while only some shrewd ones or the ones who take multiple risks (betting on India with one bookie, and Pakistan on another) will challenge the bet and support Pakistan. The bookies take advantage of the emotional aspects attached to a game and raise the bets accordingly.

The last, but probably the most important factor, is the number of players in each team the bookies, through their sources, manage to “fix”. “Dekho sahi baat toh yeh hai ki har game mein har team se ek ya do player fixed hote hi hain. Ek bhi game, chahe voh domestic tournament hi kyun na ho, aisa nahi hota jismein players fix na hon (See, the truth is that at least one or two players from each team are fixed in every match. There’s no game played anywhere, including in domestic tournaments, in which players are not fixed),” he says with the confidence of a man who knows it all. He smiles wryly, trying to hint that he knows which players have been fixed in the India-Pakistan game.

His phone rings. The call robs him of his swagger. There’s been an arrest in town, a group of policemen led by officer Kamal Kumar and his team of constables led by Lakhan have busted a minor bookie.

“You stay in the room; I have to check on a few things,” he says.

He returns after minutes and says the hotel is not safe. “I will take you on a night safari in Rajasthan.”

With thirty minutes to go for the India-Pakistan match Naresh is sitting in the Bolero, waiting for his minions to shift the necessary tools of his trade—laptops and suitcases—from the hotel room to the vehicle. He says the local bookie who has been caught may have his cell phone number, and the police may track him down in the hotel.

Chalte rahenge toh safe rahenge (we’ll be safe if we keep moving).”

The car has an almost half a metre wide plank installed right behind the two seats, which Rakesh and Neeraj, his associates, occupy. The windows are tinted and the air conditioning is on.

The driver, while still moving the car, connects the wires of a medium-sized device kept on the front seat to a mini-television screen, installed on the ceiling. Within a minute, the screen comes to life, streaming Star Cricket. As Rakesh and Neeraj switch on their laptops and connect them to the plug points in the front of the car, Naresh says, “Pakistan batting first; won the toss. Rate is now 88-92 (India 88-Pakistan 92).”

It means that for every Rs 100 bet on India, the bettor wins Rs88 if India wins, if he places Rs 100 on Pakistan he stands to gain Rs 92 if Pakistan wins.

The bookies and their clients live by two words—khaya and lagaya. These two words decide everything: the winner, the loser, profit and loss, luck and misfortune, the good and the bad. Khaya means to challenge the odds; it means a punter thinks he knows better, that his own calculations trump those of the bookies.

Take the 88-92 odds for the India-Pakistan game. If someone calls and says “Rs 100 mein khaya”, it means he’s betting against the house. If India wins the match, he gets Rs 92, but if he loses the bet, he has to pay Rs 192—the amount he bet, and the amount he lost because he challenged the bet. But if someone calls and says “Rs100 mein lagaya” it means he is with the bookie and is ready to go by the rate—he then gets Rs 88 if India wins, but loses his stake of Rs 100 if Pakistan wins.

The “bet rate” is conveyed on the morning of the match in the case of a Twenty20 tournament, which is played mostly under lights whereas in the case of one-day matches it is conveyed a day prior to the match.

The odds before the start of the game favour Pakistan in spite of the past history that Pakistan has never defeated India in a World Cup match. This could have happened because D decided that they wanted more “challenge bets” or the “khayas”.

A cell phone is connected to a speaker in the front of the car, and someone dials a number. The call is answered but nobody speaks; the line is kept connected. Neeraj calls, this time from yet another cell phone, and puts a head phone’s lobe inside his left ear. The car races away from Sikar, and Naresh looks calmer. He sips water from a bottle kept next to him and barks at the boys: “Kholo kholo; jaldi! (Open open; quick!)”.

They open the suitcases and place them next to each other. The suitcases have at least 35-40 neatly built casings, and mobile phones in every one of them. All the phones are on. The suitcases are all black and big enough to have the phones standing neatly in their respective cases.

Naresh finds me staring at the phones, and says they were all charged in the hotel rooms throughout the afternoon. Another set used during the first match has been left on while another set that was used during the earlier match has been left behind at the hotel room.

The phone connected to the speaker sputters and a coarse male voice with a distinct north Indian accent says, “5 to go, 78-92”. The rate has changed again. Neeraj pays no attention to the voice; he suddenly sits up and listens to a voice on his phone and looks towards his suitcase. The phones in both the suitcases suddenly start to ring; some beep and vibrate while others just vibrate.

Neeraj picks one, mutters “1-3, 80-85; 5-7, 80-82”, the numbers said in Hindi, punches some keys on the laptop, and puts down the phone. Rakesh, on the other hand, repeats 78-92 to everyone till the match starts; he seems to be getting more calls than Neeraj. Both type into their computers with one hand, then click the mouse button once the call is over.

The bumpy Delhi-Sikar road starts, but the bookies are unconcerned with the change in ride quality. They keep reading numbers into mobile phones and typing feverishly on their computers like they are still sitting in their hotel room. The match has started and Naresh has taken out three phones, one from each of his pockets. He holds them all in his left hand and asks the driver, “Kitni der Gullu (name changed) (How much time)?”

Das minat (Ten minutes).”

Naresh starts looking at the screen as the driver turns left on to a smaller village road. India is bowling and Zaheeer Khan has just finished the first over. “Kuch dhyaan diya aapne? (did you pay attention?),” says Naresh, “Itni wides ke peeche bhi kuch ho sakta hai (there could be something behind so many wides),” referring to the fact that Zaheer Khan started off in a bad fashion by bowling three wides in the first over. He names an Indian cricketer who he says has been “fixed” for this match according to information from the higher-ups in the syndicate.

While I look at him with disbelief, he says, “Voh khud bahut bada fixer hai (He is a big fixer himself).”

That some cricketers have been caught in spot fixing, that some have been caught passing on information to bookmakers, are for him the confirmation of his claims. He has watched cricket closely enough, and sees whatever designs he wants to see.

In his high stakes betting world, conspiracy is a constant companion. Conspiracy negates chance—the essence of sport—makes sense of his world, makes him understand why the mobiles keep ringing, why the voice from the front speaker keeps hurling out the odds, why he is travelling in the night in a cramped, boxy car when he is going nowhere.

The cell phones in the suitcases are all of the type that have a good battery life. The batteries are charged before every match and new SIM cards inserted. “We buy around 100-200 SIM cards of different companies. The preferred lot for me would be of those companies which are offering free calls across the state on their own networks or of those that are offering extremely cheap calls. This helps the local level “phunters” too because they are not always very rich,” says Naresh.

These numbers are distributed among the punters or other bookies but nobody is given more than two numbers. Different numbers are distributed in every area and there are different cell phones for every region or area; a good bookie always arranges them in his suitcase in such a pattern that he knows exactly which area or region is calling.

We are sitting in a field, away from human settlement, and drinking the soft drink Gullu has produced from a mini-refrigerator below the driver’s seat.

The phones Neeraj and Rakesh are using for themselves are of two different categories. Rakesh is listening to the phone announcing the rates changing after every ball of the match. These rates are decided in Dubai by the D syndicate’s dedicated team of bookies. The voice speaking out from the phone is usually that of someone sitting in Mumbai and repeating the rates he is listening to on a different ISD phone.

“These men too are many in number and a different person is assigned every area or region before the match. We receive the number on the day of the match or the day before and call it before the match starts,” says Naresh. He goes on to say that these men, who are on the payrolls of D, too are hired temporarily or employed permanently. Some still use the traditional method of repeating the rates being announced over the phone from Dubai but most have now turned to the Internet. Software like Skype, which facilitates video calls, or long distance calls are used widely now. Neeraj, who is more experienced than Rakesh, has a tougher job. He is listening to the rates on various categories like the number of wides in an over, or runs that will be scored in a particular over.

“Remembering all the rates and telling them to so many people who call constantly and ask for rates of different categories, then taking their bets and making a list in the computer—all this happens every minute. So only experienced and skilled people with good memories are hired for such jobs,” says Naresh.

He is telling me about a local legend, when he suddenly gets up and yells: “Arre luttanne khelen hai ke ye! (Do they play to have us looted!)”. “Yeh jagah hi manhoos hai, yahaan se chalte hain. (This place is ill-fated, let’s move from here).” Gullu is ordered to pack up and move.

Within minutes we are on our way to a more auspicious location.

Naresh comes from Sikar district of Rajasthan, famous for its betting tradition. Betting has been a way of life for his family, he says. His brother runs a small business in the district and his parents know that he is a professional bookie. “My family doesn’t think there is anything wrong in what I do. We know it is illegal but for us it is absolutely normal. My father too indulges in small-time betting sometimes, mostly the rain ones.”

Rain betting is the oldest form of betting in India. During the monsoons, people in Rajasthan take large-scale bets on the quantity, intensity and duration of the rainfall. It is carried out on a daily basis and is organised in villages and city mohallas across the state. It is highly popular but there is hardly ever an arrest in such cases. The police say they are helpless.

“How can one tell whether the people are organising it in their villages or houses or mohallas? Some people can just sit on their rooftops and start betting. It is known that many people organise it on a large scale too, but making arrests is impossible since there is nothing written ever and payments are always made in cash,” says a police officer in Sikar.

Arrested bookie Deepak Kumar was never jailed. Instead, the day after he was arrested, the day I saw him, he sat comfortably sipping tea watching the policemen play badminton at the Kotwali. Later at night he signed a statement saying he would not indulge in acts of gambling in the future.

While gambling is an offence under the Rajasthan Public Gambling Ordinance 1948 (RPGO), making use of some sections of the law, a person who has pleaded guilty is issued a warning and let off by the courts after imposing a minimum fine of Rs 200. This amount increases with repeat offenders, and may lead to up to six months of imprisonment if a person is declared a compulsive offender. Since this was his first time, Deepak was let off easy.

“His papers will be deposited in the courts and during the next hearing a minimum fine will be imposed on him,” said constable Lakhan. But while there are strict sections under the RPGO for action against organised betting syndicates, there has not been any important arrest except of small-time bookies like Deepak Kumar. Naresh says the reason for that is the bribes paid to police.

“Officers like Superintendents of Police take anywhere between Rs5-10 lakh and the amount decreases gradually as per ranks. Local constables sometimes sell for as cheap as a bottle of liquor,” he says condescendingly.

A Rajasthan Police officer who did not want to be named said that there were policemen who regularly took bribes to turn a blind eye towards betting. When rain betting first came to the notice of the British in India, they brought in a law against it called the Indian Gambling Act 1867 (IGA). This law was so weak that when the first arrests under it were made in 1888—two Gujaratis were arrested for rain betting, and two rain gauges were found with them—they defended themselves by arguing that rain betting promoted science and scientific thinking by promoting weather prediction and an interest in meteorology. After all, Vasco Da Gama had discovered the route to India by taking help from an Indian merchant settled in East Africa who could predict the monsoon winds, it was argued.

Since the British had introduced horse racing and betting in the country, and did not want to upset the Marwari and Gujarati communities, they brought in only nominal changes to the Act over the years. The only major condition posed was that any organised betting should involve skill and not pure luck. This, they said, brought horse racing under the gambling options that could be allowed while others were banned but with conditions that required only minimal fine or punishment.

In the 1960s an ingenious gambling system called matka (mud pot) was invented in Mumbai. It was named after the mud pot on which numbers are written and displayed. It is considered the predecessor to the lottery system that became dominant after the 90s. A set of nine numbers, between 1-9, would be decided using a pack of cards to draw random cards and written on the hanging matka. The first three cards were drawn in the morning after which one card each was drawn at regular intervals until midnight. People placed bets ranging from 25 paisa to many hundreds of rupees on each number and paid a fixed commission to the matka organiser in case of a win. This system of numbers came to be known as the akshar or aakhar system in most parts of north India. Shekhawati Marwaris bought telephone connections paying huge bribes to government officials and organised bets on the numbers at their shops or premises. They held accounts with various matka syndicates in Mumbai and share the profits on a 2-3 per cent commission basis.

The king of matka in Mumbai today is considered to be Suresh Bhagat, said to be involved in many criminal activities. His brother was recently arrested in a murder case. But the real king of matka is Ratan Khatri, a Sindhi who migrated as a teenager to Mumbai from Karachi after Partition. Khatri popularised matka in Mumbai 1962 onwards and became the most popular organiser in the city. Numbers were declared across the world to places such as London, Dubai and even Iran by telephone as soon as Khatri pulled the cards from the deck at his house, from where he ran his business.

But Mumbai police cracked down on matka in the early ’90s and by 1993 Ratan Khatri had been arrested and his business shut down. After his release he continued to operate the matka business on a small scale till about a decade back, when he shut down due to failing health. He lives a “retired” life but is a regular at the Race Course in Mumbai where he bets on horses.

While matka started to lose popularity due to the involvement of criminal elements who often cheated or disappeared overnight when they were set to lose money, it never grew unpopular in Shekhawati. They later embraced the Mumbai lottery system, now called Kalyan lottery. Constable Lakhan and officer Kamal Kumar say that shops, households and small business establishments across the region today are still centres from where this betting is carried out. A retired officer of the Rajasthan Police, based in Jaipur, says the biggest problem with betting is that once you taste a little success you get addicted. “In most cases I have noticed that people get into betting even after opposition from their families and even though they are in debt. I have come across cases where farmers mortgage their land to place bets. It is a malaise in the region,” he said. “Yeh toh Shekhawati walon ke khoon mein hai (It is in the blood of the people of Shekhawati). I have come across cases where people even bet on whether a pregnant buffalo will give birth to a male or a female,” says Kamal Kumar.

After Independence both India and Pakistan inherited the same law but while Pakistan has since done away with it, India still follows the same 145-year old law. In 1957, the Supreme Court of India in a ruling related to horse racing relied on the same argument of skill that had been introduced by the British into the IGA, which clearly states that “nothing in this Act shall apply to games of mere skill wherever played”. “…a competition which substantially depends on skill is not gambling.

“Gaming is the act or practice of gambling on a game of chance. It is staking on chance where chance is the controlling factor. ‘Gaming’ in the two Acts would, therefore, mean wagering or betting on games of chance. It would not include games of skill like horse racing,” the court said in its ruling. Then in a 1968 ruling the court also termed the card game Rummy a game of skill, since it “requires certain amount of skill because the fall of the cards has to be memorised and the building up of Rummy requires considerable skill in holding and discarding cards.”

While legal experts argue that cricket betting requires the same amount of skill as horse racing, it remains illegal and banned. Some forms of gambling were legalised in some states as the Constitution gave states the right to make law on gambling and betting. While 13 states now have legalised lottery, two—Goa and Sikkim—legalised other forms of gambling like Casino gambling and online gaming.

Betting on cricket is legal in London, from where the L syndicate operates. Cricket gambling, however, goes on unhindered across India as Marwaris, Gujaratis and other business communities run it in an impeccably organised manner. Naming a fast emerging real estate and infrastructure development company of Rajasthan, Naresh says he worked for them till last year and the company, owned by a Marwari, held the third-largest book in the country till it decided to go clean. The next big books are now run by business houses/syndicates from emerging cities and future metropolitans.

“Nagpur holds the biggest book today while Hyderabad has now risen to the second spot. Calcutta and Mumbai keep jostling for the next two spots every year.”

We’re on the road again, looking for a more auspicious place. The odds are now 64-70, and Naresh is looking at the television screen attentively and making a few calls. “Kuch khoke lagaye sa? (Will you bet a few crores?),” he asks someone on the phone. He asks Rakesh in between, “Kitne? (How much)”.

Hain abhi (enough money left). He then looks questioningly towards Neeraj, who says, “Upar hain (we are going up, i.e. earning well by winning challenges as well as some of the bets for which they will get decent commissions)”.

This soothes him.

His book for the match is close to Rs 1,000 crore, he says. Gullu is taking us back towards Sikar. We cross the deserted streets of the town. “Usually this city does not close down so early but everyone is busy betting on the match so the shops are closed,” says Naresh.

We move towards Khandela, a small town 45 km away. “They are mining uranium here,” he says.By the time the Pakistan innings ends, the bets are down in the 20-22 to 18-20 range. We are parked alongside a small hillock surrounded by thorn bushes, a place we found after driving through a one-kilometre stretch off road.

Neeraj has been firing at his computer and it is amazing how he is managing the bets and maintaining such detailed accounts. Munching away at the snacks, Naresh explains.

The first rate that he announced to the bettor who had called—1:3, 80-85—was for the number of wides that may be bowled in the first over. This means that the winning bet for one wide ball in the over is Rs 80; in case there are no wides in the over or if two are bowled, it is considered as one. Similarly, if three or more are bowled, the bettor wins
Rs 85. So if a person calls and says, “Ek pe 100 lagaya”, he means that he wants to bet Rs 100 in favour of the figure of one. Supposing the commission is Rs10 (10 per cent), if the bettor wins the bet he takes home Rs 70 for every 100 rupees he bets, whereas he loses Rs 80 if he loses the bet.

On the other hand, if a bettor says “Ek pe 100 khaya”, he means that he is betting against challenging the prediction of 0-2 wides and believes that three or more wides will be bowled. In this case if he wins, he takes home Rs 75 after deduction of the 10 per cent commission; but if he loses he has to pay up Rs 180. Similarly, if he says “teen pe 100 khaya” challenging the prediction that three or more wides will be bowled, he takes home Rs 70 after deduction of the commission but loses Rs 185 if he loses the bet.

So who wins and who loses? In normal circumstances, three wides in an over are unlikely. So people will place their money on either the 0-2 option or challenge the three (or more) option. “This is where fixing comes in,” says Naresh. “If a player has been fixed to bowl a number of wides in an over the bookie makes a killing. Similarly if he loses he loses big.

“But such bets are also placed to fool the bettors at times, who might think that a player has been fixed and go on to bet on option three (or more). But in such cases the bookies take big risks and might lose money too because it is more unlikely.”

The second rate that Neeraj had announced to the bettor on the phone–5:7, 80-82–was for the number of runs that would be scored in the over. The mathematics on it works in the same way as for the bet on the number of wides. While the most likely bet would be to go with the 5 (0-6) option or challenge the 7 (or more) option, in case a batsman hits two boundaries in the over, all the bettors would lose money. “This bet could have been placed because Imran Nazir (Pakistan’s opening batsman) is a tod-fod wala (aggressive and attacking) player and it’s quite possible that he’ll score two boundaries in the over,” says Naresh.

So Neeraj is listening to all these rates right before an over starts, conveying the rate for any category a punter is interested in, as well as keeping accounts of the money earned or lost on every bet in every over? “No,” says Naresh. “He is not ready for more than three options per over yet. So today I gave him three options and distributed the others to one other of my juniors, who is presently in Jaipur.”

A voice on the phone, some numbers spoken, and the deal is done. The entire business is based on personal guarantees of the parties involved, who usually don’t renege on the payouts. The payments to and by local bettors from bookies with small books are usually made by cash. In case of bigger amounts, the business associates of the bookie, mostly those who have staked his book, facilitate the transfer of money through various types of deals.

In case of losses, the winning punter in roped as a broker or middle man in a particular deal and his payment made through the legal channel. In many cases, shares of companies are used as the mode of payment.

When a bettor loses, he usually coughs up the cash, though accounts are also settled through the sale of shares, land and other properties which the bookie or his investor with a legitimate business may buy at a bargain.

Naresh says his boss makes sure land is used as the medium for settling dues, something which keeps his real estate business afloat. “In some cases the winning parties ask for favours in making land deals for cheap rates in return for the money owed to them,” he says.

International payments too follow the same pattern—cash or share of shares or property—but in many cases betting sites, the legal ones in Britain, are used as the medium for payments. D and L, he says, use this medium quite often. In case of losses for bettors, however, D is said to also demand large cash payments

Account-keeping when transactions are happening by the minute is a difficult task. This is where the Batsman comes to the rescue of bookies. A software designed to manage accounts and keep track of bets, the Batsman is essential for men like Naresh. It is the industry standard, a closely guarded secret, and has even seen updates over the years.

Ek Mumbai ke baniye ke ladke ne banaya tha (A Baniya’s son from Mumbai designed the software),” says Naresh. This was done in the late ’90s when cricket betting had started to become big. The Batsman, is exclusively available only to bookies, and syndicates sell it at Rs 2000-Rs 3000—“but only to trusted associates”.

A complex software with a design suited to the bookies’ needs, Batsman is used as the single tool to store all records. A code is assigned to every bettor who calls the bookie beforehand, and he has to announce it to the bookie before or after placing the bet. According to the category of the bet—khaya and lagaya—there are smileys on the page that are clicked once the type of the bet and the amount are entered.

The software keeps making the calculations for every code (person) and also shows a cumulative profit-loss ratio, amount and other data. “I cannot break the code and allow you access to the software,” Naresh had declared, sounding a little uncomfortable, on the way back to Sikar after India wrapped up the match. He also refused to reveal the profit he had made for his boss and the commission he would get.

In a posh Jaipur suburb not far from the famous Umaid Lake Resort, 10 people are typing rapidly inside the office of a real estate developer. It’s been a busy week, the work has been uncompromising. The office—which sits in a newly opened mall-cum-office complex—has a small cabin for the team leader, and the rest of the group share the open space with the latest—read fastest—computer systems. Work continues well into the night as these days there is “more work”.

It gives the impression of a busy realtor, one who is briskly making deals in the Pink City. A man at the office, however, says that his boss’s property business is quite small and has, in fact, been going down over the past year.

He also chips in with another interesting piece of information: his boss these days doesn’t really give a damn about the property business. What are the team leader and his team doing in the office, then? The realty business is a sham—“duniya to dikhane ke liye” (for the world to see)—the office is a front, and the owner a bookie.

The team leader and his team are small fry and their boss is a big fish, one of the many who enjoy the patronage of the sharks that swim in the transcontinental waters of the betting syndicates.

When international cricket matches are on, this Jaipur man’s “books” run into thousands of crore, say people who work with him. October has been a busy month, the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka has given these group sleepless nights spent in juggling books, taking bets and transferring money.

When I meet the bookies at their real office in Jaipur, the crucial India-South Africa T20 match is on. It’s a game India must win with a margin of 30 runs to make it to the semi-finals. A big match, it saw big bets. “Indian bettors (including those of Indian origin who live abroad) bet heavily for India, which means brisk business for us,” says Naresh who had fixed this meeting for me, after the night safari in Sikar.

His boss, the one with the book of Rs 10,000 crore, refused to speak to me. Naresh had tried and failed.

It was all about chance, about luck. About the intangible that decides which way the coin will flip, which way the ball will go. People took their chances. They bet their hard-earned money, they bet stolen money, they bet black money. They bet with their mind. They bet with their gut. They won sometimes. They lost sometimes.

D won every time and everywhere. In Dubai, in Mumbai, in Jaipur, in Sikar, and at the foot of the hill with thorn bushes, inside the car where men with suitcases full of mobile phones went about their job in the night.

Update: This story has been slightly edited since it was first published in November 2012)