“Gambling is bad, but, it is flourishing in Goa – as portrayed in the Goa Legislative Assembly – because there are more winners than losers. People walk away with crores from casinos and people live off matka,” says Suresh as he sips his drink.
Gambling has been prevalent in Goa for years, though its form has changed through time. Money was first gambled through clubs, later through matka, a game that has its origins in Mumbai, and a few years back, in casinos.
Although gambling still goes on in clubs, matka is one form of gambling closest to the purses of many, and despite being discussed umpteen times in the Assembly, though illegal, appears to have received legal sanction in Goa.
“Tell the government to try to stop matka in Goa and see what will happen. The game offers employment to thousands of people and is doing today what the government cannot – provide work,” says Artemio, a matka bookie from North Goa who runs a gambling hub.
Artemio has nine boys collecting bets for him in nine different wards of his village, and he claims to pay them between Rs 18,000 to 20,000 a month, plus food and petrol.
“I make around Rs one crore a year after paying off the police and the crime branch,” says Artemio, as he checks the slips of the day.
“I, then, place some of my bets with a bigger agent, who places his bets with the big boss,” discloses Artemio.
While members were heard complaining about the manner gambling destroys the family, one punter shot back, “Do people who win anytime disclose that they have won? Yes, people lose, but many people win, and it is those who lose that cry,” avers Ramesh (name changed on request), who provides quick loans to people gambling in casinos.
“I normally finish the day collecting bets totalling around Rs 40,000 a day. The agent gives me ten per cent, five per cent of which I give my clients. With all taken care of, it is good money,” admits Vinod, who is one of the four bookies in a village in Goa.
“Matka is played by the poor and rich because it is accessible and affordable to all. You may not end up rich playing matka, but for sure you can end up having a meal. Matka puts one through monetary pangs of heartburn,” says Suresh, who remembers starting with matka at a young age.
“I have men and women coming to play, and, at times, children who have been sent by their parents to play for them. Matka is part of living in Goa, and a game whose study is shared,” observes Gajanan, who feels accepting matka bets is more profitable in his retail shop.
“With the advancement in technology, matka bets are today accepted in the United Kingdom,” he discloses.
“I go to the casino with a few thousand rupees to normally play horse races. In the few hours I spend, I am offered free drinks and given free access to the buffet. I may not always win, but I end up having a good time,” says Frank, a retired professional.
“We have clients who come with suitcases, who either go back with double the money or empty. Clients prefer to sit on tables where gaming is live now and many times the odds are even for both,” disclosed an individual closely associated with the casino lobby.
“The newcomers tend to start playing with machines and specifically the roulette machines, but as they mature, the focus switches to live gaming,” added another individual on the condition of anonymity.
“Matka has fixed games and cannot be played all the time, unlike in casinos where after one game the next one starts. According to what has been stated in the Assembly, there are now one number games being played through apps on the phone. This is something strange and something for the people who play to be worried about,” claims Santan, as he shuffles the cards before dealing for the next game of Rummy.
In the end, thinks Santan, it is an individual’s self-control that determines whether playing cards or gambling is hazardous or not. The Legislative Assembly may make laws to control gambling, but according to many who are in the business of gambling, it is “where the money comes fastest and easiest that matters”.
And, as far as gambling is concerned in Goa, it profits the lawmaker and lawbreaker.