India, Oct. 8 -- One of the things that strike you about Colombo's market areas is shops with boards: Sporting Star and Sporting Times.
They seem to be in every street. You enter and more than a dozen TV screens are playing all kinds of action, from horse racing to greyhound racing to various matches.
These are the legal betting centres in Sri Lanka, set up mainly to attract tourism but hugely popular among the locals too.
The Sporting Times has a chain of around 50 outlets around the capital alone. It has general and VIP sections. At the VIP lounge, they take bets above Rs. 500 while otherwise it starts from Rs. 10.
The general centre is at the ground floor while you take a lift for the VIP section, where it opens straight into the main hall. It's dimly lit, perhaps to keep your identity secret, has plush seating and refreshments are provided.
The betting company brings out its bulletin everyday which can be bought for Rs. 10.
Usually, the main volume of betting is on horse racing and greyhounds, but it's been cricket fever in the last three weeks as the centres get packed during the WT20 matches. And with the hosts in the final, it hit a peak on Sunday.
In the night, you can gamble at casinos which standout with flashing neon lights. They are a big attraction for the tourists and the main business is provided by people from India, Pakistan and Dubai who fly in at the weekends.
Here, drinks and cigarettes are on the house and clients are even dropped at their doorsteps.
The only requirement is that one has to buy chips for 2000 Sri Lankan rupees. It's compulsory to play up to R500, after that it's up to the customer.
For people from the subcontinent, it's value for money.
Even if an Indian loses Rs. 10,000 here, it's only Rs. 5000 in Indian currency.
While the Sri Lankan government has legalised the betting and gambling industry, gaming zones are not allowed near temples, schools or highly populated areas.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.