Gambling in India has a long history, and, by the look of it today, a bright future associated with start-ups and cutting-edge technologies like blockchain, cryptocurrencies, 5G, and smartphone apps.
Numerous ancient texts suggest that gambling on games of dice has historically been a popular game among India’s wealthy. In the Mahabharata– the longest poem ever written, and thought to depict events in India in the 8thand 9thcenturies BCE – there is the story of Yudhisthira Paandava, a rich and magnificent prince whose fondness of dice games leads him to ruin due to his failure to gamble responsibly.
A rival tricks the initially-wary ruler into wagering far more than he can afford to lose – jewels, livestock, lands, palaces, even himself. He duly loses, but is granted a reprieve for his foolhardiness, only to gamble it all away once more and end up in exile! In the Rig Veda – thought to date from before 1200 BCE – there is a hymn from a gambler to the dice, though again this is a tale of woe from a man who did not gamble responsibly.
The recent history of gambling in India is less downbeat, more suggestive instead of the resourcefulness with which men and women have found ways to play gambling games throughout the ages. A key development was the introduction of cricket. Reports of the British playing cricket on Indian soil can be traced back to the 1700s, and since this time cricket gradually became adopted by Indians themselves, with the earliest first-class cricket match in India was between Madras and Calcutta in 1864.
This period saw an explosion in informal betting among Indian cricket fans, with enthusiasts wagering on the outcomes of matches among themselves. By 1867 it had become such big business that the government moved to regulate the practice with the Public Gambling Act.
People in India have been gambling for millennia – and often that has required improvisation and resourcefulness. Nowadays technology affords many more opportunities for gamblers to play. For example, one can gamble online and win at casino games with many sites, including paddy power, which offers an array of virtual games like slots and roulette, as well as live-streamed classic casino games like blackjack.
Another intriguing development in India’s gambling business was the emergence of matka in Mumbai in the mid-21stcentury. Here, book-keepers would take bets on the opening and closing rates of the New York Cotton Exchange, which were regularly transmitted to the Bombay Cotton Exchange in Sewree.
When the New York Cotton Exchange ceased to publish its opening and closing prices in 1961, the practice evolved, and people instead began to bet on the prices of imaginary products, which would be drawn at random at the end of each day. Again the government eventually moved to crack down on this lucrative and unregulated business, with matka being heavily compressed since 1995.
With new technologies emerging all the time and providing new opportunities for gamblers, and gambling businesses, there is no doubt that gambling in India will have a future as rich and interesting as its history.