Police have rounded up 81 people in a crackdown on a triad-controlled syndicate that ran 14 illegal gambling and drug dens in Hong Kong that featured arcade machines for betting and offered free illegal drugs to attract customers.
The force said the racket took advantage of the closure of recreational game centres amid the coronavirus pandemic by opening small-scale gambling venues on Hong Kong Island to lure in their customers.
On the illegal premises, the gang offered arcade machines with fishing and shooting games that patrons used for betting.
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“The gang also provided free low-quality crystal meth and drug paraphernalia to their customers on the premises,” said Chief Inspector Tse Tsz-kwan, of the Hong Kong Island regional anti-triad squad. “They also helped their clients buy high-quality meth and cannabis.”
In an effort to pocket more money from gamblers, he said, the gang also increased the difficulty of the games so their customers would lose more quickly.
To collect evidence, undercover officers posing as gamblers were sent to the gambling dens late last year.
After identifying the alleged ringleader and key figures of the gang, more than 100 officers were deployed to raid and close down the 14 gambling dens in Wan Chai and North Point, arresting 81 people in the five-day operation between last Wednesday and Sunday.
Among the 51 men and 30 women, aged between 21 and 77, were the alleged mastermind and core figures of the syndicate, the keepers of the illegal gambling centres and some patrons.
During the operation, police seized 31 arcade machines, account books, HK$41,000 (US$5,300) in cash and HK$40,000 worth of illegal drugs, along with drug paraphernalia and some weapons.
According to police, the gang recruited members of ethnic minority communities and mainlanders to operate the centres to avoid detection and arrest.
The arrested included 18 ethnic minority community members and four mainlanders. Two of the mainlanders held two-way permits – travel documents for entering the city – and the other two had recognisance forms, which prohibit the bearer from taking up employment.
Tse said the operators of the dens took turns working in different locations controlled by the syndicate in an effort to evade detection.
“We believed the syndicate had been in operation for at least six months,” he said, adding that the operation had uprooted the syndicate with the arrest of its alleged ringleader and other key figures in the gang.
The suspects were arrested for various offences such as drug trafficking, money laundering, possession of offensive weapons, gambling and operating a gambling establishment.
Police also fined 62 of the suspects HK$5,000 each for violating social-distancing rules banning gatherings of more than two people.
Tse said police would try to track down the crime proceeds from the dens and identify the holders of bank accounts that were used to collect and launder the money.
He said the operation was continuing and further arrests were possible.
This article Hong Kong police arrest 81 in crackdown on string of triad-run gambling dens first appeared on South China Morning Post