Authorities in Hong Kong reported Thursday one of the biggest crackdowns on illegal gambling in the country that has allegedly generated in excess of HK$33 million ($4.2 million) over two years.
Raid on Illegal Gambling Establishments
Police officers raided in the early hours seven gambling dens in Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po and Yuen Long that were allegedly run by a triad-controlled syndicate and arrested 48 people, comprising the alleged ringleader, 12 core members of the syndicate and 35 gamblers. Police also seized HK$13 million ($1.65 million) suspected to be proceeds of crime during the operation named ‘Steepland,’ reported South China Morning Post.
“In the operation, officers seized HK$2 million, two sports cars worth HK$2.4 million, and 10 luxury watches with an estimated value of HK$3.5 million,” informed Superintendent Lui Sze-ho of the force’s organized crime and triad bureau.
According to the police, the syndicate took advantage of the closure of mahjong parlors and recreational game centers as authorities sought to combat the pandemic and opened illegal gambling venues, turning flats in old buildings in the Kowloon West and New Territories North regions into gambling dens.
Lookouts, Bouncers, Shell Companies, Luxury Goods
To ensure the gambling dens will remain hidden, the triad-controlled syndicate deployed lookouts and bouncers at each venue. Six of the seven gambling dens operated arcade machines with fishing games for betting, while the seventh was an illegal mahjong parlor.
As for the crime proceeds, the syndicate set up shell companies and laundered the money by buying luxury cars and expensive watches and obtaining cash, managing to launder more than HK$33 million in two years.
Among the syndicate members arrested on suspicion of money laundering, claiming membership of a triad society, operating illegal gambling, gambling unlawfully, and trafficking in a dangerous drug, there was a merchant and a Thai boxing instructor. Players detained were mostly housewives, construction site workers and unemployed people.
“The operation has successfully dealt a heavy blow to the syndicate, hit their income sources and stopped their illegal activities,” Lui stated, outlining that the investigation is still ongoing and may result in further arrests.
For illegal gambling, Hong Kong law has provisions for a maximum sentence of nine months in jail and a HK$50,000 ($6,364) fine while for those involved in operating an illegal gambling establishment, the law provides for up to seven years in jail and a HK$5 million ($636,364) fine. Money laundering brings up to 14 years in jail time and the same HK$5 million fine.