A racket, according to the current common and most general definition, is an organized criminal act or activity in which the criminal act or activity is some form of substantial business, or a way to earn illegal money either regularly, or briefly but repeatedly. A racket is therefore generally a repeated or continuous organized criminal operation or enterprise. Conducting a racket is racketeering.
However, according to the original and more specific definition, a racket or racketeering usually involves extortion or criminal coercion. Originally and often still specifically, a “racket” referred to a criminal act in which the perpetrator or perpetrators fraudulently offer a service that will not be put into effect, a service to solve a nonexistent problem, or to solve a problem that would not exist without the racket. Particularly, the potential problem may be caused by the same party that offers to solve it, but that fact may be concealed, with the specific intent to engender continual patronage for this party.
The traditional and most common example of a racket is the "protection racket", which promises to protect the target business or person from dangerous individuals in the neighborhood and then either collects the money or causes damage to the business until the owner pays. The racket exists as both the problem and its solution, and it is used as a method of extortion.
However, the term "racket" has expanded in definition over time and may now be used less strictly to refer to any continuous or repeated illegal organized crime operation, including those that do not necessarily involve fraudulent practices or extortion. For example, "racket" may refer to the "numbers racket" or the "drug racket", neither of which generally involve extortion, fraud, or deception with regard to the intended clientele.
Racketeering is most often associated with organized crime, and the term was coined by the Employers' Association of Chicago in June 1927 in a statement about the influence of organized crime in the Teamsters union. Specifically, a racket was defined by this coinage as being a service, such as protection (see below) which calls forth its own demand, and would not have been needed otherwise.
According to a 1990 National Police Agency survey, 41.2% of 2,106 Japanese firms polled had been contacted by racketeers, and 32% said they had yielded to their demands by buying phony magazine subscriptions and paying other fees. Sums in nearly half the cases were less than 100,000 yen, approximately $775.
In 1990, local Indian extremists killed the chairman of an Assam tea production company. They then called a meeting of tea executives and demanded protection money. They were refused, and since then there has been repeated violence and a steady stream of kidnappings.