KATHMANDU, June 30: Euro 2012, which concludes Sunday night in Ukraine and Poland, has drawn the attention of football fans across the globe and Nepali football fans are no exception. As Euro-fever caught Nepali football fans, ´illegal´ betting rackets have not spared this economically fragile country.
Sanjay (name changed), who resides in Patan, is a sports enthusiast and didn´t miss a single Euro Cup match until the semifinals. However, he could not enjoy the matches fully this time.
Sanjay and his friends met a bookie agent during the Euro Cup and started putting money in betting rackets operating in Nepal.
"We have a small group of six friends and our group alone lost Rs 100,000 Indian currency last(Thursday) night in betting when Germany lost to Italy," said Sanjay. "Despite winning bets in a few matches I lost Rs 20,000 IC during the Euro Cup," he added.
According to Sanjay, they put money in the betting through a sub-agent (called ´runner´ in the bookie market) who takes the money to the agent. "We know only the person who takes the betting money from us. Though he doesn´t give us many details about the scheme, he tells us that he puts the money in the bookie market through some casinos in Kathmandu," said Sanjay.
Bikram (also name changed) from Chabahil has been betting through an agent since the quarterfinal matches. "I could not make any money as I gambled small amounts. I´ve been betting only to enhance my interest in the matches," he said.
Both Sanjay and Bikram wanted to keep their gambling story secret to avoid family displeasure and possible ´legal´ action by police.
A sub-agent who works for a casino in Kathmandu said transactions in tens of millions a day take place in the underground bookie market here.
"The transactions take place through a loose network that functions only on the basis of trust and threats," said the casino worker, demanding anonymity. "The network functions in a chain," he added.
"Foreign bookmakers send the rates for betting. Bookies, who are usually Indian, receive the rates from London and inform Nepali bookies about them," he said.
The betting rates fluctuate as a match progresses. Before the semifinal match between Germany and Italy, the bookies had set a rate of 70 paisa per Rs 1 for people betting for Germany while it was Rs 3.20 per Rs 1 for those betting on Italy. As the match progressed and Italy took an early lead, the rate changed. After the first goal, the betting rate was Rs 6 for Germany and 28 paisa for Italy.
"All the transactions are done through phone calls and runners. I´m responsible only to one person above me and he is also responsible to me alone, not to my clients," he said. "People involved in bookie transactions carry separate phone numbers for this purpose and they later destroy the numbers," he added.
The runners and agents inform clients about the rates through SMS and email and the betting amount is collected or paid by the next morning.
According to the sub-agent, the runners, sub-agents and agents work for commissions. "If a bookie gives his agent a commission of only 1 paisa per rupee, the agent could end up making millions during the Euro," he claimed. "In Kathmandu at least two casinos are helping the bookies and working for commissions," he added.
"No one betrays the bookie in this business, If anybody does, he risks his life," he said.
Though he explained the bookie market in Nepal, he was not certain about the number of bookies in Kathmandu. "Only a person with power and money can take the risk of running a bookie market and I think there are very few such in Nepal," he said. "I´m sure the betting amount goes to India and other foreign lands but not sure how the system works. This is an unknown to my level," he added.
According to the casino worker, Birgunj and Biratnagar are the other two hubs for Nepali bookies after Kathmandu.
In Nepal and India, betting is illegal and police could intervene.
"Gambling is illegal and we could launch information-based interventions or complaints-based interventions," said SSP Devendra Subedi, chief of Crime Division at Kathmandu Metropolitan Police.
Though the bookie market reaches the general people through technology and via runners, Nepal police, who claim to have more serious matters to attend to, are yet to get any information or complaints about the bookies.