Millions, murder, mafia... Mumbai matka gambling comes of age

The murder of Mumbai's 'matka king' Suresh Bhagat last month, allegedly on a supari of Rs 45 lakh, has given a whole new meaning to the term 'hostile takeover'. Matka, which was earlier thought of as a glorified version of the lottery system, finally revealed itself as a lethal game to play, where contracts are paid, people killed and deception is the norm.

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.

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