After the coup, Myanmar is full of illegal gambling dens

Bribes, lawlessness and growing poverty have fueled an increase in illegal gambling, driving some bettors to ruin and despair and sparking waves of local crime.


The two fighting cocks clashed, their faces already bloody and the torn feathers strewn on the ground.

“Fight to win! Advance and fight! shouted the 50 people surrounding the ring, which was inside a large green tent in Shwepyithar township, north of Yangon.

“Five in favor of Chate; will anyone take three for Yit? shouted a young man as other employees kept track of bets on a ledger.

Ko Than Htay*, a regular cockfighting player, explained to Border that Chate is a more experienced and favored fighter to win.

“If a player bets 50,000K on Chate and wins, he will win another 30,000K. If he loses, he will lose the 50,000K,” he said.

At the official exchange rate, 50,000K is equivalent to nearly $24, but trades for nearly $15 on the black market.

After 15 minutes of brutal fighting, Yit turned and ran, handing victory to Chate as his supporters cheered and celebrated.

Than Htay pointed to a heavily tattooed man standing in the center of the ring, wearing a T-shirt and a pulicat longyi, an undergarment commonly worn by gangsters in Yangon. “He’s the owner of the cockfighting ring,” Than Htay whispered. “He’s a famous gangster in the area. He was in prison for murder.

While Shwepyithar is one of several Yangon townships under martial law, and a nighttime curfew and ban on gatherings remain in effect across the city, that hasn’t stopped illegal gambling from thriving. .

“These gambling businesses operate openly. The stakes are over K10 million,” said Ko Naing Htoo*, a member of a community charity group in the township.

Than Htay said that before the military seized power in the February 2021 coup, cockfights took place about once a week, often in remote fields. But now, as the rule of law deteriorates under military rule, they openly perform in this gambling hall every day.

“No one will be arrested,” he said. “There are even expansion plans.”

Police have been bribed to stay away while local men are paid K10,000 a day to provide security, according to Naing Htoo.

A screenshot from video of the cockfighting ring, taken on hidden camera in October. (Border)

risk it all

Gambling has long been illegal in Myanmar and the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment and a K1 million fine. Although the Gambling Act 2019 allows it under certain conditions , an accompanying licensing process has yet to be established.

“In the past, gambling dens had to operate in secret, but now they do their business openly,” said U Min Thu*, a lawyer in Yangon.

It’s much the same story in the heavily fortified capital of Nay Pyi Taw, where illegal gambling proliferates under the noses of the military. There are at least 10 gambling locations in and around the nation’s capital, with one of the most popular haunts tucked away in a complex in Lewe Township.

“You can’t see anything from the outside, but when you walk into the compound it’s like another world,” said Ko Than Zaw*, a 32-year-old who works in the capital and loves to play.

Here, customers can bet on cockfighting, Lay Kong Jin or Ga-loke Ga-loke.

In Lay Kong Jin, the dealer spins a four-sided spinning top with a different animal on each side: a frog, a chicken, a pig, and a snake. As the top spins, he covers it with a bowl so players can’t see, adding to the drama as bettors bet on which animal will come out on top.

Ga-loke Ga-loke takes its name from the sound of dice clicking and also revolves around animals, both real and mythical. Punters lay cash on a placemat featuring images of different creatures – ranging from a peacock to a winged horse – while three huge six-sided dice are wedged atop a large open briefcase, held with a stick . The dealer pulls a string connected to the stick, releasing the dice, which then fall to the bottom of the briefcase, each displaying an animal image.

“We can bet from 1,000K to several hundred thousand kyats,” Than Zaw said. “It’s like going to a festival, there are so many people.”

But while it may seem celebratory at first, many players quickly find themselves losing it all.

“If the players are short of money, we will accept motorcycles, cars, gold and other assets as collateral for loans. The monthly interest rate is 20%,” said pawnbroker Nay Pyi Taw, Ko Aung Myint.

“When I started playing it was for fun. Then I slowly started losing,” said U Kyaw Lin*, a resident of Nay Pyi Taw, who was forced to sell his living room in tea to repay debts contracted in a gambling den located in a housing estate in the canton of Zabuthiri.

He started going to the casino last November, playing a fish shooting video game popularized in China. In a different location near Shwepyithar station, Border players seen playing the same game.

There were about 10 tables featuring the fish shooter, which locals called the “shark game”, with about 12 people crowded around each machine. Various sea animals swarm across the brightly lit 42-inch LCD table as players shoot at them, earning money for hits and losing money for misses.

Young women were stationed at each table, taking money from potential players, who must hand over at least K10,000 to start playing, although most end up spending much more.

“If you run out of money, you can use mobile banking,” an employee explained.

After paying, the money is loaded onto a game card, which is then inserted into the machine.

“This game is like a drug,” said Kyaw Lin, who believes the machines are manipulated to ensure players lose.

“When I lost I thought if I win next time I will get my money back. In the end I lost around K170 million,” he said. talk about the casino.”

Aung Myint, the lender, said a few hundred people play Nay Pyi Taw every day, with more showing up on weekends.

“Most of them are poor, but the rich come too,” he said. “If they lose, they pawn their motorcycles, rings or other valuables. Hardly a day goes by when a player doesn’t need to pawn something.

Yangon’s lawyer Min Thu said the lack of job opportunities and economic malaise since the coup encouraged desperate people to try their luck at gambling.

“When the economy got tight, many poor people started gambling hoping to make easy money, but it ruined their lives,” he said.

Ko Nyi Zaw*, who worked for nearly two years at a gambling den in a residential complex in Zabuthiri township, said it was not unusual for gamblers to rack up losses of hundreds of thousands of kyats.

“Machines are programmed to make profits and if people come to play unknowingly they will end up losing and getting in trouble,” he said.

Police, who violently cracked down on peaceful protesters after the coup, have been accused of accepting bribes to allow illegal gambling. (Border)

Greased palms and broken quarters

With illegal gambling taking place so openly, it’s no surprise that the police know about it – and take a cut.

Aung Myint said Border that gambling den owners pay bribes to township and district police chiefs so that they can run their businesses without fear of arrest or closure.

“The bribe can range from K5 million to K10 million per month,” said Aung Myint, who also claimed that the paid police would give advance warning before a raid.

Nyi Zaw confirmed these denunciations, adding that police corruption contributed to the increase in gambling venues. He said that if there was only one gambling den in Lewe Township before the coup, there are now at least four.

“Police and soldiers no longer do law enforcement work, so these businesses have become mainstream. The fact that many gambling dens and casinos are operating in Nay Pyi Taw is proof of the weak rule of law under the junta,” said Min Thu, the lawyer.

This proliferation has angered local residents who have had to deal with an upsurge in crime.

“In areas near gambling halls, things are stolen at night and there are a lot of thefts,” said U Win Aung, who lives in Lewe Township in Nay Pyi Taw.

“At night a lot of people who have lost their money gambling gather on the road and rob motorcyclists,” he said. “Residents don’t go out near this road; we don’t feel safe.

Naing Htoo, the resident of Shwepyithar, said robberies also often occur after cockfights in the neighborhood, where some gamblers bet hundreds of thousands of kyats.

“At night, I have to take turns guarding my house. Items were stolen from the neighborhood and not only from the houses, but also from the monastery,” he said. “Sometimes players fight. It scares us. »

Naing Htoo said he and some neighbors complained to junta-appointed neighborhood administrators about the gambling dens, but no action was taken. “We can’t do anything,” he said.

Min Thu expects the political instability to translate into a further increase in illegal gambling.

“Police and soldiers are busy catching protesters and dealing with guerrilla attacks, so this situation will only get worse,” he said.

Kyaw Lin, who lost his teahouse business due to his gambling habit, warned others against going down the same path.

“I don’t want anyone playing, especially machines. It is impossible to become rich. Players just lose,” he said.

* indicates the use of a pseudonym on request for security reasons

About Miley Sawngett

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