Illegal bookmakers in India’s capital city of Delhi have been filling the void left by the shutdown of sport worldwide by taking bets on COVID-19, including infection rates, death tolls and lockdowns.
According to the Hindustan Times, the markets have been popular among customers looking for something to bet on in the absence of sport and particularly the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket tournament, which had been due to start on 29 March.
“Initially, when the virus was still new, bets were being placed on when it would be eradicated,” one bookmaker said. “Then, money was being placed on lockdown dates, which had a longer validity. Daily bets also included the infection and death counts in different cities.”
Early bets were primarily placed on when lockdown measures or certain restrictions would be lifted, usually the day before a government announcement, but have since evolved to a wider range of options.
COVID-19 betting was a viable option due to the wide array of statistics available on the spread of the disease and expected outcomes, bookmakers explained.
“IPL is a major season for us and our clients, and that being cancelled was a big hit,” one bookmaker said. “Many (clients) arrange for money to bet on these matches from different sources so that they can repay debts or pump this money into their businesses.
Public gambling such as sports betting, as well as casinos, remain illegal in Delhi under the Delhi Public Gambling Act (1955).
Despite this, the International Centre for Sports Security in Doha estimates the illegal betting market in India at US$150 billion annually, including US$200 million bet on every One Day International Cricket match played by the Indian cricket team.
Discussing the issue of COVID-19 betting, a crime branch official told the Hindustan Times, “They (gamblers) place bets even on the weather during the monsoon season.
“We are yet to come across any such case of them betting on the issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible they may be doing it. The extent of the betting will be clear when we get any specific tip-off and make arrests.”