Saturday, 2 November 2013

High Rollers Hold Back Big Bucks at This Year's Diwali Parties, But Food & Drink Get Better

This article appeared in Mail Today, Delhi/NCR, on 02/11/2013.
Copyright: Mail Today

By Sourish Bhattacharyya and Radhika Bhalla

Diwali parties may be seeing less money being thrown
around this year, but the food, wine and single malt
offerings are getting better by the year. Image:
Courtesy of www.buzzintown.com
THIS is the weekend when the pace and magnitude of Diwali card parties picks up, but the city's punters are already complaining about the market having become "thanda". They blame the cooling down of property transactions for the dampening of the high-roller sentiment this season.
Diwali has traditionally been the season of brisk property sales, which in turn has sustained the cash economy that comes into play at the imported roulette tables of the city's richie-rich parties. This season, the punters are no longer talking about fatcats sauntering in with suitcases bulging with money at Chhattarpur farmhouses or of Rs 5 lakh being the minimum 'move'.As one veteran of these parties put it ruefully, "There's a liquidity crunch." In other words, there's not enough liquid cash floating around in the grey market. But of course, card parties have shown no signs of slowing down. They continue to go on till 6 or 7 a.m. -- the time people leading less colourful lives normally set off on their morning constitutional -- though the stakes may not be as high as before.Two features of this season stand out, according to insiders. The first is the growing visibility of the scions of business families -- not the prominent ones, but those that are locally important, from rice traders to car dealers. These young men with their trophy wives, each one of them a walking DLF Emporio, are the new high-rollers. Even they are being restrained in their 'moves'. No one's putting more than a couple of lakhs per move. And these high rollers literally enjoy elevated positions at card parties -- they play in secluded cabanas or on machans. Hosts are also judged by the number of roulette tables they set up, enabling guests to indulge their passion for blackjack.At the more 'affordable' parties, the 'blinds' range from Rs 8,000 to Rs 20,000 and in some cases even Rs 1 lakh. But the minimum buy-in at medium/high poker games, a favourite of the scions, extends from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. The 'ladies', who are assigned separate tables away from the men, play with very small stakes that their husbands wouldn't even sniff at.The other trend, which is not a new practice but has held its ground, is that no one gets to play on credit. This old practice often led to ugly situations in the past. The most infamous incident was that of a former cricket czar ending up owing Rs 1 crore to a late hotelier after a cards party. The day after got so out of hand that the former (and controversial) BCCI top honcho's industrialist father had to bail him out by paying in installments the money his son owed. Since then, you're allowed to play on the high tables only if you have the cash and you can move' only what you have.The money changing hands this season may not be high, but the hosts of card parties are pulling out all the stops when it comes to showing their hospitable side. Single malts are the flavour of the season. At one such party, on offer to guest were a hundred single malts, some of them from the barrels of distilleries that had stopped operating decades ago. Italy's premium red wine, Barolo, is another favourite, and the hosts are going to great lengths to get their wine lists right.Finger food, fondue (this year's flavour of the season) and kebabs accompany these libations and they continue to be served through the night. "The stakes may be lower, but our business is booming this year," said a caterer who's popular at high-end card parties. Win some, lose some. Isn't that what gambling is all about?