NEW DELHI - While all of India was gripped last weekend by televised efforts to save a boy who had fallen into a deep pit, bookmakers received $33 million US in bets on whether the child would survive, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
"The timing of the boy's likely rescue was also a matter of intense speculation," the Times of India newspaper quoted an unnamed bookie as saying. Most of the gamblers had expected the boy, who was eventually rescued Sunday night, to be freed that morning, the report said.
Gambling is a popular pastime in many parts - even though betting is outlawed in India - and thousands of Indians apparently saw the drama surrounding the rescue of the young boy, identified only as Prince, as an opportunity for some action.
Prince, who is said to be either 5 or 6, fell into a narrow, 18-metre-deep irrigation shaft on Friday while playing in his village in the northern state of Haryana.
He was trapped for 50 hours before being rescued safely on Sunday, his birthday, by soldiers in an operation that was televised live across India.
Bets poured in Sunday as the rescue efforts were broadcast, the newspaper reported. It did not say whether there were any big winners.
Billions of dollars exchange hands in India each year through a secretive betting system that uses a complex set of codes often uttered only on phones to avoid leaving a paper trail.
Most of the betting is on cricket, but bets are also placed on a wide range of subjects, such as the colours of saris worn by actresses on television soap operas.
Bets have also been placed on the likelihood of Hindu-Muslim religious riots, the newspaper reported.