In Mumbai, Sameer Chokhani (name changed) is gearing up for the annual ‘Diwali eve teen patti party’ at the house of his boss, a leading Mumbai-based banker. “Even though nobody talks business, it’s a great networking opportunity,” says Chokhani. “Typically, we have three-five tables. The minimum buy-in is Rs. 2-3 lakh. It’s strictly by-invitation, with single malt and vegetarian food,” says Chokhani.Diwali is a couple of days away and Indians across the country (especially in north and western India) will pull out their decks of playing cards to indulge in their annual game of teen patti.
A widely quoted figure is that the gambling industry in India is worth about $60 billion, most of which is illegal. However, what’s different about this new set of gamers, as the casinos call them, is that they don’t mind spending a few lakhs for a night of thrills and they are willing to travel anywhere to do it.
A Family Game
“We are looking at the well-heeled, well-travelled high net worth Indians to give us most of our business,” says Xavier Vaz, director of Casino Carnival, Goa. “We are looking at creating family centres of entertainment and not just gambling setups,” he explains. As a result, Casino Carnival has a creche in which children are taken care of by trained nannies as parents gamble a floor below.
Most casinos say that they have started developing their own loyal clientele. According to an executive, each offshore casino flies in, wines and dines anywhere between “250 and 400 high net worth, regular gamers” every month. And why not? Stories of VIP clients (who get their private rooms on boats) blowing up Rs. 50-70 lakh or even more in a night are not unheard of.
The House Parties
In November 2007, industrialists Manoj Sethi, Sunil Chopra and Lalit Modi got together to host a card party. The party had more than 25 card tables, belly dancers and singer Leslie Lewis set the mood music. Four years later, Delhi’s chatterati still talk about the party fondly. Things have changed now. Party regulars say that last year’s themed parties have given way to more hush-hush private affairs.
Case in point: event and wedding planner Meher Sarid who was behind organising most big-ticket Diwali parties in 2010 has not managed even a single event. “There is some wariness to garish display of wealth, this year. People are a bit scared to throw the big 200-plus people events they were doing last year,” she says.
Society watcher Devi Cherian confirms that the parties haven’t stopped but they have toned down courtesy the fear of being caught. “That doesn’t mean they are not gambling, just that they are not talking about it,” says Cherian. Estimates put the starting big stakes at Rs. 1 lakh to bets that go up to Rs. 25 lakh. Then there are the no-limit tables, a norm at all parties, big or small. If the cash isn’t a possibility, you could bet your house, your car or even your Jimmy Choos or Birkins.
Even women are game to bet big. Traditionally, while women would be sitting on the sides there are talks of them sitting in on the big games where the winnings (and losing) are usually more than Rs. 1 crore.
It’s women who are more likely to bet possessions like jewellery and cars while men play purely with cash.
While Delhi has always been the hub of Diwali card parties and fuelled more “interesting” card stories like the one about a guy staking his farmhouse and losing. “Delhi’s gambling culture is also fuelled by a culture of showing off and one-upmanship where the Kapoors have to outdo the Sahnis or the Guptas,” Mumbai-based image consultant Chaya Momaya says.
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