How fantasy cricket apps are bowling Haryana youth out

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How fantasy cricket apps are bowling Haryana youth out

Thirty-four-year-old Sandeep Singh adds milk to a pan with boiling water. He then adds tea leaves, sugar, and ginger to the pan without stopping to rethink the amounts added. He has mastered the art of making tea at a kiosk in Badhra town of Charkhi Dadri district of Haryana like he has always been doing it. Only he hasn’t. Sandeep opened the tea stall in the early months of 2023.As he...

Thirty-four-year-old Sandeep Singh adds milk to a pan with boiling water. He then adds tea leaves, sugar, and ginger to the pan without stopping to rethink the amounts added. He has mastered the art of making tea at a kiosk in Badhra town of Charkhi Dadri district of Haryana like he has always been doing it. Only he hasn’t. Sandeep opened the tea stall in the early months of 2023.

As he hands over the cups with piping hot tea, Sandeep says life has given him a second chance.

“I lost Rs 56 lakh in online cricket betting between 2020 and 2022. Since this was the time of lockdown, after completing my work in the family farm, I would remain occupied on Dream11, selecting my own team and placing a bet on my favourite number. Initially, I kept winning and so I got even more hooked to the app. Later, however, I began to suffer losses and even before I realised, I was drowning in a vicious debt circle,” Sandeep tells The Federal.

The price Sandeep had to pay wasn’t just monetary. His family cleared the debt and then disowned him for not listening to them when they asked him to stop.

The farmer-turned-tea-seller shared that while the cricket bug got to him during school days, the online addiction to cricketing apps began during the lockdown.

“There was no work to do, nowhere to go and internet connectivity enabled smartphone was the only companion,” he said.

“I was not the only one. These days many school students place bets. It is so addictive that the desire to win back the lost money does not let one sleep, eat, or concentrate on anything else,” he added.

Sandeep is right about the spread of the problem.

Rajesh Dalal of Jhajjar district found himself caught in the web of online betting after his parents shifted him to Rohtak’s paying guest facility to prepare for competitive exams in 2022.

Dilbag Singh, his father who works in the corporate sector in Delhi, said that his 18-year-old son wanted to prepare for competitive exams, so the family made the arrangements for him to stay and study in Rohtak.

“There he came in touch with some bookies who kept encouraging him to place bets on sports apps. He would ask for a couple of thousand extra every month in the name of books and library fees. We took it casually till one day, he came home frightened and revealed that he lost Rs 13 lakh in betting, and bookies were after his life. I had to sell off my plot in the village to clear the debt. Ever since he came home to the village, he remains secluded and shows no interest in studies, sports, or in family matters,” Dilbag added.

“My own son was at fault so who do we complain to and who do we hold responsible for it,” he rued.

In another shocking incident, a 17-year-old boy, Himanshu from Rohtak, was killed by his friend over a dispute of Rs 25 lakh won by them in an online cricketing app in August. Police arrested the accused Rahul, a friend of Himanshu, and recovered the latter’s body. The accused told the police that they had a dispute over the sharing of Rs 25 lakh won on an online cricketing app. He told the police that the winning money had come to Himanshu, who was reluctant to share it with him.

A senior police officer told The Federal that seven men are languishing in Gurugram jail for crimes related to online cricket gambling. “They are aged between 23 and 26 years. The face various charges from defrauding partners to indulging in violence over sharing the money earned in online gambling,” a police officer added.

Deepak Chaudhary from Charkhi Dadri claimed that he had been a bookie in the district from 2020 to 2022 and enticed many youngsters to place bets to win easy money.

“One thing that is certain is that the bookie never loses money irrespective of whether the bettor gets lucky or not. He said that at least 1,200 cricket matches of cricket take place round the year in which bettors place their bet,” Deepak told The Federal.

“Initially, they download the apps like Dream 11 and Bahubali which are promoted by celebrities. Soon, they get addicted to it. They put their money till they have it after which they contact the local bookie who places their bet. The bookie lets them place their bet even without money if he knows them personally or gets the land documents in his possession. In that case, he does not demand cash till the bettor reaches a point of no return,” he added.

Deepak revealed that the bookie looks for people who have recently sold land and joined the club of neo rich. “After seeing the worst side of the online betting game, I quit a year ago, but it is challenging to remain without getting engaged in it,” he shared.

While Deepak worked as a bookie his clients ranged from school students to cart vendors who would bet anything from Rs 100 to Rs 10,000 on a daily basis. “The addiction is such that the bettor wants to place the bet even if he loses money in the hope of recovering it,” he added.

He said that though he has quit the online cricket betting business but the old habit still makes him restless to get into the business again.

Weak law    

Arpit Jain, who is the superintendent of police in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, said that the law on online gambling cases is not clearly defined. “Since it involves online money transactions, it is very difficult to track them as the servers of many online applications are abroad,” Jain said.

Pardeep Malik, a senior advocate of the Haryana and Punjab High Court, said that there is no definite law and directions on online betting cases. Those who are caught are booked under the Gambling Act, which is so lenient that an accused gets away by paying a fine of Rs 100.

There is no fear of the law for those who indulge in playing online cricket bets. “The parents are the real sufferers who lose their sons and also endure financial losses running into lakhs,” Malik added.

“These are considered as petty crimes and it always remains an issue whether to consider these cases under the IT Act or Gambling Act, so accused get the benefit of loopholes,” he added.

Malik made a concerted pitch for stricter laws on the menace, saying online gambling is becoming a serious threat and concern for youngsters. “There is a need to get laws made on it before it gets too late.”

Though online cricket betting is prevalent throughout the country, it is a more serious issue in Haryana due to the rise of in unemployment rate.

At 37.4%, Haryana has highest unemployment rate in India. The prevalent frustration among youngsters is leading them to betting on cricket fantasy apps.

“The young generally have an intense desire to fulfil their aspirations. If they do not get legal and ethical means to fulfil their dreams, they look for shortcuts like winning money through online cricket bets,” Dr Sonia Malik, professor of psychology at MDU Rohtak, told The Federal.

“Betting during IPLs sees a phenomenal rise. It has seen many achieve a meteoric rise and also drastic downfall. This works like a web, once one loses money, he wants to recover his lost money. If he gains any money in betting, he wants to try his luck further till he reaches a point where he loses everything. It is a form of addiction and our youth who could not get anywhere despite having degrees or diplomas, are more likely to get addicted since they have greater aspirations,” she added.

Many cases of smartphone addictions are linked to online cricket bets.

“PGIMS Rohtak receives patients who are addicted to smartphones and some of them are hooked to online cricket bets. Though, the number of patients is increasing every month, parents are hesitant to look for counselling from doctors. They do not consider it a disease or addiction and think that with time, the addiction would get over but the condition of the patient deteriorates with time,” said Dr Rajiv who works at PGIMS Rohtak.

Celebrity attraction

A study conducted by IIM Rohtak, led by Prof Dheeraj Sharma and Dr Madhurima Mishra, found that individuals who get engaged in online gambling once, are likely to do it again.

The research by the premier institute also examined the impact of celebrity endorsement on the propensity to gamble, and it was found that the intent to gamble significantly increases on account of celebrity endorsements.

“The study found that the availability of smartphones and affordable internet services have made it possible for youth to carry out gambling activities in online mode. The popularity of cricket and football have prompted developers to come up with well-regulated mobile applications for online gaming and betting. The apps allow sports fans the opportunity to enjoy gaming action and place their bets,” Dheeraj Sharma said.

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