Betting on a race

May 24, 2020

An unprecedented gambling incident at a horse race in Rawalpindi reveals the scale of the racket

“Raising horses is an addiction even if you do not take part in horse sports”, says Riaz Pirzada, the former minister of state for sports and six-times elected parliamentarian. He was commenting on the arrest of over 150 people including some policemen for gambling on horse races in the Ranyal village of Rawalpindi. People of Ranyal and nearby localities welled out in big number in the middle of the night on April 22 to watch this horse race, many of them thrilled more by the gambling than the sport.

This, according to police, was an unprecedented incident in that it involved so many people. Ranyal is on Chakri Road that threads through many areas that border provincial assembly constituencies of Rawalpindi and Taxila. The Rajputs are the major tribe that flanks this road, though demographics are changing due to the mushroom growth of housing societies in the area.

“It was at 2.00am when we raided the venue. It appeared to be so much like a daytime event. Children, adolescents and the elderly… all were awake and fresh as if it were a matter of routine for them,” Ahsan Younas, the city police officer tells TNS.

Imran Akbar, a builder engaged in property business in the area, says that generally it is not possible to engage in mass gambling without connivance with the police. He also says that such gatherings could increase the risk of spread of coronavirus in the area.

CPO Younas confirms that when the police conducted the raid, the organizer was on the phone and being tipped by local police about a possible police raid. “Yes, the police are involved,” he says.

Asked about the routine of bailing out police officials by merely suspending them from service for a while, Younas says that that isn’t the case.

“The local police post in-charge and two other officials have been named in the FIR. We have a network in every police precinct keeping an eye on what is going on in the area. It is because of that network that we detected this crime,” he says.

A total of 159 people were arrested, however, according to CPO Younas just about as many involved in the racket escaped at the time of the raid. He says the suspects were produced before a court and due to prevailing coronavirus situation, the court granted them bail. “We also confiscated the money and the horses etc,” he says. He says six policemen were arrested for their involvement in gambling.

Raja Shahid Pappu, the alleged organizer of the event, was not available for a comment. Raja Qambar, a community leader, told TNS that people in this area have a tradition of raising horses.

“It is wrong to allege that we routinely gamble on horse races. We hold horse races out as part of our culture. We have one of the biggest race courses in the region. People like Pappu are bringing a bad name to the community,” says Qambar.

He says that Rawalpindi has lately become notorious for gambling. When gambling on prize bonds was banned all over the country, it continued here, he says.

Gamblers from the city take part in international events and police cannot catch them, he says. “Every MNA elected from this region is a minister in the government. All of them know [the impact of such activities]. This spoils children. But no one cares to stop it,” he says.

“You will see a visible change in the future. The people of Rawalpindi took a sigh of relief when we eliminated criminal gangs; we will also eliminate the gamblers. They have international connections and we have to be careful talking about them even in our meetings as they have eyes and ears inside these meetings,” he says.

Syed Zeeshan Naqvi, deputy mayor of Islamabad and patron of horse sports in the region, says if the government provides facilities for horse races and tent pegging, it will discourage unauthorized betting events in the region.

Riaz Pirzada, the former state minister for sports, tells TNS that his family, like other notable families of the area, raise horses. “There is nothing like sitting beside horses for some time every day. It is very hard to raise horses for races. A horse is a delicate animal,” he said.

He regrets that there was betting on this mega horse event on Chakri Road in Rawalpindi. “When I was a being minister, I facilitated horse farmers in this region and arranged horse racing events here. But the incumbent government has neglected this sport, which is why the likes of Raja Papu have can organize betting on races. If the sport is mainstreamed, unauthorised betting will automatically end.”

The writer teaches media at IIUI and tweets @furraat

Betting on a race: An unprecedented gambling incident at a horse race in Rawalpindi reveals the scale of the racket