Millions, murder, mafia... Mumbai matka gambling comes of age
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Also known as satta, matka involves people betting on numbers (either two or three digits) and the winner gains 80 times the amount wagered. It originated in Mumbai in the early 1960s and was a big craze in the 1970s and 1980s, until the police cracked down on matka operators in the mid 1990s.
Mumbai's Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria says, "During the days of first matka operators Ratan Khatri and Kalyanji Bhagat, evidence of matka gambling was also seen in states like Gujarat and Delhi, besides Mumbai. However, with the boom in information technology and communication in the '90s, people from Malaysia, Nepal and also West Asia started betting on numbers. Moreover, earlier, there was an element of luck and fairness to the game. Now, with computers and mobile phones being used by matka operators, the essence of the racket is fixing, with luck playing no role in who bets on the winning number."
Suresh Bhagat, believed to be running matka operations worth crores of rupees, was killed on June 13 when a truck rammed into the car he was travelling in with five other associates on Alibaug-Pen Highway.
What initially seemed like an accident, turned out to be the result of a conspiracy to eliminate Bhagat and take over his multi-crore matka operations. Police arrested Bhagat's ex-wife, Jaya, and their son, Hitesh, for allegedly hatching the conspiracy. Bhagat had, in fact, informed the Crime Branch of threats to his life, said police officers.
"Suresh Bhagat married Jaya in 1978. However, the couple started having problems when Bhagat accused Jaya of 'associating' with several men, including Arun Gawli's aide Suhas Roge. In 2001, Jaya filed for divorce. By that time, she already had a stake of 70 per cent in matka operations. She used to 'pull the number' on which bets were placed, a very important position in the matka business. Since then, Jaya and Roge had been trying to get rid of Suresh and had filed a number of false cases against him. However, when the duo realised that things were not moving fast, they decided to get rid of Bhagat forever. The seeds of conspiracy for the murder were sowed then," says Maria.
Adds a senior police official, on condition of anonymity: "It was Ratan Khatri who started the matka business in Mumbai in 1968. An immigrant from Kutch, Kalyanji Bhagat also started his business from Worli in the early 70s, and it soon evolved into a multi-crore industry. It wasn't long before the underworld started taking interest in matka gambling. The way in which Bhagat was eliminated was a very professionally executed hit-and-run case for which a supari of Rs 45 lakh was paid."
Rakesh Maria, who is leading the investigation into the Suresh Bhagat murder conspiracy, says, "Over the years, the matka business has developed very close links with the underworld in Mumbai. Till the late 90s, the involvement of the Mumbai underworld in the matka business was limited to gangs demanding 'protection money' from the operators to let them carry on their business safely. In 1998, the Gawli gang entered the matka business when Suhas Roge started associating with Jaya Bhagat."
According to Maria, the matka racket is the most organised crime sector in the city, operating in a particular hierarchy with the main operator at the top, employing bookies under him, who in turn have sub-bookies reporting to them.
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