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Monday, February 26, 2001

It’s a different ball game now
By Peeyush Agnihotri

THE mouse has turned the tables on billiard balls. Cyber cafés are suffocating the pool joints if the numbers of such joints that have wrapped up in Chandigarh are any indication.

In the past few days, many pool and snooker joints have put up their shutters. The reason: teenagers, the main client segment, are giving preference to the keyboard over the cue. Those who have survived are concerned at dwindling profits and the sudden slump in the market, thanks to the cyber cafés.

The clientele at both places consists of teenagers who have a lot of spare time and money. "Kids prefer to chat and surf porn sites at cyber cafés. After all, who would want to play pool at Rs 50 an hour when one can surf the Net at a mere Rs 20. It should be the responsibility of the parents and those managing the cafés not to let school children enter before 2 pm, the closing time for schools," says Rakesh Duggal, secretary, Chandigarh Billiards and Snooker Association, and adds that besides high rentals and maintenance, mushrooming cyber cafés are one of the reasons for the closure of pool joints.


Teenagers prefer cyber cafés to pool joints.  A Tribune photo by Pradeep Tewari "One of the reasons? It is the main reason," rues Naresh Aggarwal, who had to close his shop in Sector 35. "Computers and the Net have become such a craze. Parents know that with a computer their ward has a future and with pool he lands up nowhere. So they prefer that their kids visit a cyber café rather than a pool shop," Aggarwal adds.

"Pool joints preceded cyber cafés in Chandigarh. Both had students as customers. The population in Chandigarh does not have much spending power, so only one of the two could survive. Cyber cafés blossomed and snooker joints wilted. Another reason is that pool joints require a huge investment while cyber cafés do not require so much of infrastructure," says Narinder Nagpal, another businessman who had to close down his pool joint and is into trading pharmaceuticals now.

Sceptics feel that none of them is having a ball and both businesses are set for darker days ahead. "Even cyber cafés are going to meet the same fate," Nagpal forecasts.

"Even today both are running into losses," says Narinder Pal Singh Chinna of 26 Carat, a snooker-cum-cyber café. "If the general feeling is that cyber cafés have weaned the customers away from the pool joints, business should have increased proportionately at the cafés. But that is not so. We are surviving because we do not have to bother about the rentals," he adds, and explains that both pool joints and cyber cafés got a huge response initially because of the "curiosity factor."

"Business at various pool joints has fallen by 60 per cent, on an average. Earnings have gone down by 50 per cent at my shop itself. All this is because the rates at cyber cafés have fallen from Rs 100 to Rs 20 per hour," says Vineet Khanna of Snook-8.

Those who have wrapped up the business are finding it hard to sell off their tables, wares and accessories.

"They are now shifting their base to towns and cities in Punjab and Haryana as the market is untapped in these states," says Prabhat Dogra, who closed down Billiard Café in Sector 34 and is into the printing business now. "Cyber café was partly a reason apart from high rentals," he adds.

Looks like cyber cafés are having a ball! For the time being, at least.



Net gambling

Hong Kong’s Jockey Club is facing a nagging problem — punters in the gambling-mad territory are increasingly placing their bets with offshore Internet sites, costing the club and the government billions in revenue.
Growing competition from offshore bookies has made Hong Kong’s only legitimate betting agent so nervous it is pressing the government to take action.
But authorities admit the odds are against them being able to stop the unofficial betting because most of the online bookmakers are based overseas. They have no jurisdiction over them, even if they are clearly targeting punters in Hong Kong.

The Jockey Club estimates it is losing HK $ 50 billion (US $ 6.4 billion) a year to high-tech and illegal bookmakers, but it is not alone.

The trend is also hitting government coffers just as the territory is emerging from its worst recession in decades.


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