Punters in Pakistan have swung into full action to grab their win out of $74 billion global online sports betting market as the cricket world cup is pacing towards its decisive stage.
There are a number of online bookmakers operating for international betting lovers. Ladbrokes, William Hill, PaddyPower, SkyBet, BetVictor, Sportingbet, BetFred, Coral, Bet365 and Betfair are the popular names. Some of them are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
“As of 2014, we have 709 registered members from Pakistan,” said an official at UK-based betfair, which is one of the world’s leading online bookmaker. “We may have more who have signed up.” Betfair was cautious to share the exact tally of betting amount from Pakistan in this world cup tournament.
“That’s not something I can check I’m afraid,” said the official. “However, we expect lots of bets as cricket is very popular.”
While Pakistani government doesn’t permit gambling, the United Kingdom, where most of the top-grossing betting sites operate, allows this.
“The rules vary in different countries. People in Great Britain are permitted to gamble in licensed premises and online (if the site is licensed by the Gambling Commission),” answered James Cook, Corporate Affairs Officer at Gambling Commission, in an email.
He, too, declined to comment on betting on UK’s sites by people living in countries, such as Pakistan, where betting is prohibited.
“The registered Pakistanis on betfair operate from Pakistan,” confirmed James.
A customer needs to open an account with a deposit of 10 pounds, for example, on betfair.com.
Most of the punters in Pakistan use e-wallet, such as NETeller and Moneybookers (skrill), for payment exchanges on online gaming. Payment service company charges some fees for routing money through different destinations.
Despite the technology advancement, a majority of locals still play bets on telephone or at a ‘book’ – a gambling den.
For them, online betting is very sophisticated. “Bookies have online account with such exchanges,” said a high-rolling punter. “Hundi/Hawala is their preferable channel of fund exchanges.”
Familiarity with the new technology does not only get a gambler rid of legal action, but it can also add to their gross gambling yield.
In Pakistan, sports betting is usually played on even number – one gains/loses equal to what he places as bet. Contrarily, on the internet betting platform, the winning amount is not always the same as betted. For instance, the odds may be 10/1. So, if a person places 10 pounds on this number and he wins he will get back 110 pounds (10 pounds X 10/1 + 10 pounds = 110 back). Clearly, a shrewd bookie must be racking up good money on difference between earnings from internet bookmaker and payment to his punters; although the risk is also big.
An estimate said online sports betting industry is growing more than 30 percent/year – a percentage point much beyond the overall growth rate of the gambling industry.
Internet statistics portal Statista calculated the size of world’s sports betting industry at $700 billion to $1,000 billion.
Though the betting is illegal in most parts of Asia/Middle East, yet this region accounts for 32 percent in the total gross gambling yield.
Sport betting in Pakistan is as old as the country’s inception. In India, gambling history harks back to Sanskrit epic of Mahabharata.
After the partition, betting has seen many ups and down as some governments were found lenient and others strict.
Ludo (Latin: I play) – a legacy of the past – has been and is still much popular game among betting devotees in the country.
“But, nothing is parallel to the addiction to betting on cricket scores,” said a punter.
No matter how tough the government be “betting is very much pervasive in Pakistan,” observed Owais Anjum, founder and chief executive of Cricout, an internet cricket tracker. “Even a common man doesn’t resist the temptation of placing bets especially when a mega event comes down,” he said.
Just a decade ago, betting was flourishing nationwide. There were around 60 books run by Hanif Suzuki alone in DHA Karachi. The well-connected bookie coughed up Rs10,000 a day/book as protection money to high-ups to prevent raid.
Many of the gambling bigwigs, including Anis Kamdar, Khan and Mufti have moved to Dubai from Karachi. Javed Chotani, an infamous match fixer is said to have wound up his affairs. A very few, including Tabasum, Mithu (Zahid), Badsha Khan and Jilani are still into bookmaking occupation. But, now a majority of games is based on speculation. And, if that is the case punters said they are justified to demand for a legitimate status to the betting industry. They said this will fetch the national treasury sizeable tax revenue.
Australia, which has the world’s highest per person gambling rate, generates more than five billion dollars in taxes on gambling winnings.
Millions of people are already resorting to offshore betting websites as they are denied this recreation in their home country.
Internet is being dubbed as a potential source of raising money for terrorist activities. US security officials warned of terrorists using betting sites to launder money.
But, banning and blocking means coaxing people to tie with black marketers and promoting unregulated business, wrote Michael Oxley in his argument against congressional ban on online gaming last year.
“The risk of exposure to identity theft, fraud, even money laundering on an unsafe, unregulated, overseas black-market website is serious. And ignoring that black market, rather than addressing it will only make us less safe,” said Oxley. “We need to be focused on keeping consumers, businesses, and families safe when engaging in online activities. That means utilising the best available technology and the best safeguards, not blocking their use.”
The writer is a staff member