Since India began voting in mid-April in its marathon five-phase general elections, betting has become rampant and a multi-million rupee business in the back alleys of Delhi over who is going to be the new prime minister or which party will form the next government.
While ruling Congress is likely to lead with 140 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, bookies have predicted that it will still fall far short of the half-way mark of 272 required to form the next government and the race is too close to call.
Out of 545 members of Lock Sabha, 543 are elected while two Anglo-Indian deputies are selected by the Indian president. The next parliament will be formed by June 2.
As India was voting Wednesday in the fifth and final phase of the polls, for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is predicted to win from 125 to 130 seats, the odds are improving that they will win more.
Thanks to this tight race, betting is becoming more than lucrative for thousands of Delhi-based bookies who live off all kinds of games life can offer from politics to sports.
"Betting is illegal in India. But, it's time for the bookies to make quick bucks. We are also participating in betting to earn some money in these times of recession. I am for the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and L.K. Advani as the next PM," says Ajay Sigh, a businessman based in Chandni Chowk, Delhi's bustling historic town.
Agreed booker Shekhar Sharma, working on the phones and taking bets ahead of the actual vote count on Saturday. "The current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the favorite to take the prime ministership, while BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani is considered a 3-1 chance to win the top job."
"I have been placing bet on Singh 100,000 rupees (2,000 U.S. dollars) and you get double if you win. Similarly, on the next government, it ranges from 200,000 rupees to 500,000 rupees (4,000 to 10,000 U.S. dollars), double if you win," he explains, claiming that he is a first-timer in this "illegal business." Sharma, who is originally a real estate agent, works from his home in South Delhi.
In fact, the million-dollar betting industry in India operates entirely by word-of-mouth, and based on trust.
"It all started with cricket. Now, it has percolated to Indian elections also. We work in confidentiality but no one cheats the other person. It's purely based on a person's goodwill," said a gold trader in Connaught Place, the most popular commercial district of the capital, while seeking anonymity.
"The whole betting business is really like a big train. Some get off the train, some get on. There is no fixed rate. Whatever you decide to put on, you get double that amount if you win but lose that money if your bet fails," said Kanti Komal Bora, a Delhi-based Assamese bookie who is in the industry for over a decade.
However, political analysts believe that this time no one could be sure of a particular political party forming the next government.
"It will depend on the regional parties. Most likely, a weak coalition is to emerge as a possible alternative front to form the new government," says S.K. Dass, a senior political analyst.
He said that the only way to stop betting is police action against those involved in the business.
"If it's not stopped, it will become a social menace," he said.
Police admit that betting did exist while being illegal.
"If we get tip-off, we take immediate action. The only way to stop this betting business is to make people aware that is something not expected from a civil society," said a senior Indian police official, who did not wish to be named for protocol reasons.