Hong Kong police have arrested 135 people, including two 15-year-old students, during citywide raids on illegal gambling dens.
Officers said the venues, largely clustered around Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po, were also used to peddle drugs and offer high-interest loans.
Anti-triad officers led the operation, code-named Wisebold, on Friday evening. They swooped on a dozen game centres and 51 illegal gambling dens across the city, seizing 153 arcade machines, including fishing games and slot machines.
Superintendent Chung Lai-yee from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said the establishments, mostly controlled by triads, operated 24 hours and could make tens of thousands of dollars each per day.
First-time customers might find it very easy to win and redeem a lot of cash. But soon the culprits deliberately altered the machines’ operation to make the games a lot more difficult. This hooked the gamblers and made them addicted to gambling. They are all losers at the end
Superintendent Chung Lai-yee
Before playing on the machines, gamblers had to buy cards, which recorded their scores. They could win points in each game but, unlike at other arcades, the points could be exchanged for cash, which is illegal. As well as pocketing money lost on the games, the operators took a 10 per cent cut of winnings redeemed.
“First-time customers might find it very easy to win and redeem a lot of cash. But soon the culprits deliberately altered the machines’ operation to make the games a lot more difficult,” Chung said. “This hooked the gamblers and made them addicted to gambling. They are all losers at the end.”
The bureau said triads often rented units in industrial buildings or old buildings on short-term lets and turned them into illegal dens. They served regular clients, and did not admit anyone they did not know.
The 98 men and 37 women aged 15 to 76, some with triad backgrounds, were arrested for gambling offences. The two 15-year-old students were found to be customers.
Also among those arrested were seven mainland Chinese with two-way permits – which allow them to enter Hong Kong but not work – and 15 people from other countries including India, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines and Bangladesh, who did not have Hong Kong ID cards. Chung said they worked at the centres, having been targeted because they were jobless and eager to earn quick cash.
Chief Inspector Tsang Ting-pan from Kowloon East Regional Anti-Triad Unit said gangsters also sold drugs and offered high-interest loans in the dens.
“They first offered gamblers free drugs, such as Ice, cocaine and cannabis, to attract them to the den,” Tsang said. “This turned gamblers into drug addicts. The den then sold drugs to them to lure them to stay on the premises to gamble. When gamblers lost money, they borrowed from loan sharks.”
Officers also seized HK$650,000 (US$83,000) in cash and 15 top-up machines in the operation, which was still ongoing. Chung said more arrests could follow.
In Hong Kong, operating a gambling establishment carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$5 million fine. Gambling in an illegal establishment carries a maximum penalty of nine months in jail and a HK$30,000 fine.
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