BENGALURU: B'luru, like Goa, draws gamblers from different states in south and north.Regulars say they win and lose in lakhs, and penalty if caught, is a fine of a few hundreds; Indiranagar and Koramangala are main hubs
Gambling in city draws a huge crowd, from across states. Regulars say that they stand to make or lose lakhs by investing a few thousands, and this rush of adrenaline can get addictive.
Hopefuls come from Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and cities and towns in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. They say that this city and Goa are well-known for their gambling culture, which thrives thanks to legal poker clubs.
Gaming for money is illegal in Karnataka, under the Karnataka Police Act 1963, but gamblers say that games are conducted every day at these clubs in various parts of the city. Koramangala and Indiranagar are hubs in particular.
Police records show that last year 341 cases of gambling were booked and 57 cases in last two months alone. The penalty is pitiably low — Rs 200 fine for gamblers and Rs 500 for the clubs — top officials say that imprisonment is rarely ordered by the magistrate court.
Hundreds interested in game of chance
A 40-year old businessman from Kerala has been visiting Bengaluru every month for the past two years and has won Rs 15 lakh several times. The businessman is known for betting in Rs 10,000 rupee table at a club in Indira Nagar. “I generally don’t look at my cards when I gamble and go for the all-in most of the time,” he says.
The cost of entering a game is relatively low, Rs 2,500 is the minimum you have to bet and this can mean one night’s dinner bill for many Bengalureans who earn in few lakhs. This businessman’s bet -- of Rs 10,000 -- is for the game of ‘high’ stakes.
No wonder then that the hopefuls are many fold more than the seats at the gambling table. Hundreds of interested -- between 25 and 45 years - show up at clubs every day but each club keeps just two tables with 12 people seated, and six to seven rounds of game is organised every night.High-stakes gamblers bet a maximum of Rs10,000 and take home anything between Rs 40,000 and Rs 1 lakh. Winning money is taken in cash and deposited into bank accounts in small amounts over time, to avoid suspicion.
Losers earn debts and become hangers on
You can lost big time too and people end up borrowing from friends for another game. A 47-year old gambler, originally from Mumbai but born and brought up in Bengaluru, has been gambling almost every day for the past three years.“Money can be very addictive especially when you have luck in your genes,” he says. He has lost several lakhs in the game and has borrowed to keep it going.
The gaming-house culture supports addiction. Says one of the regulars, “Food and drinks are available in the club, and contests can go into early hours in the morning… say 4 am. There are people who have quite their jobs, are deep in debt and continue to hang around the clubs”
While gambling is merely a thrilling hobby to older men, it can hold the promise of ‘easy money’ to youngsters. 25-year-old call-centre employers from Chennai visited Bengaluru to gamble for Rs 30,000. He won Rs10 lakhs over three days.He had started this as a hobby six months ago. “We live in a world where only money can buy happiness,” he says.
Jailing offenders is rarely done
Based on the Karnataka Police Act 1963 Section 79-80, first-time offenders face a fine up to 200 rupees along with a one-month imprisonment. However, the jail term can go from three to six months for second and third-time offenders. DCP Ram Niwas responded that he was unaware of cases where culprits faced any jail time and it is the magistrate that decides the action taken against these law-breakers.
RULES VS REALITY
How poker clubs are supposed to work:
Karnataka High Court passed an order in 2013 that, like any other sports club, recreational poker clubs are allowed to run with registered members. Different types of membership can be given, such as basic and platinum grade, depending on services provided. Poker games fall under two categories — tournament game and cash game. Tournament games are allowed in the city as it is considered a skilled game. The chips used in this game do not have a face value and the entry fee is collected to give the prize money.
How poker clubs work currently:
Cash games are illegal in K'taka. Chips used in these games are bought by the player and have a face value. Five per cent of cash is taken from every hand.
There are no registered members and clubs have no record of players. Money is collected in cash and, with many players, the inflow is in lakhs. There are no records for these collections and no tax is paid on it.
Unlike night clubs, poker clubs are considered recreational clubs and cash games go on till morning.