Myanmar Authorities Bust Illegal Bordertown Casino

By Htun Htun 16 July 2020

Yangon — A joint task force consisting of Myanmar’s military and security personnel raided an illegal casino at the Myawaddy border in Karen State on Tuesday, arresting four Chinese gamblers and 14 citizens from Myanmar, the military-run Tatmadaw True News Information Team reported on Wednesday.

The owner of the three-story casino in Myawaddy, identified as Saw Shan Lay, is on the run.

“The primary responsibility when tackling such crimes rests with law enforcement organizations. They asked for our help. In some cases, armed groups are involved. We cooperate when asked for help or when there is the involvement of armed groups,” military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy.

In Myawaddy, the casinos are mostly run by the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), which is backed by the military. The BGF was formed in 2010 from a splinter group of the former Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is itself a faction of the revolutionary Karen National Union. Its commander Colonel Saw Chit Thu told The Irrawaddy this week that its casinos are currently closed due to COVID-19.

Citizens from Myanmar arrested at the casino. / Tatmadaw True News Information Team

The detainees, gambling equipment and seized cash have been handed over to the Myawaddy police, who opened a case under the Gambling Law.

There are dozens of casinos and gambling dens in the border town and residents say it is difficult to control them because most of them have ties to armed groups.

Myanmar’s May 2019 Gambling Law legalizes casinos for foreigners while nationals still face up to five years in prison for gambling.

Existing casinos in Myawaddy are not legal because gambling rules have not yet been enacted and only foreigners are allowed to play, said Lower House lawmaker U Sein Bo of Myawaddy Township.

“As everyone knows, most of the casino owners are somehow connected with armed groups. There is a need for cooperation among the Tatmadaw, police, general administration department and all the other departments to address the issue. One organization alone will not be able to handle this. There is a need to curb this problem to promote the rule of law,” he said.

He said the authorities had instructed departments to make inspections to ensure casinos, gambling dens and hotels do not operate without permission in the town.

Gaming equipment at the casino. / Tatmadaw True News Information Team

The Tatmadaw will cooperate in tackling illegal activities in the town, said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.

“Whether the Tatmadaw will take the lead role will depend on the information available. [Some casinos] have ties [to armed groups]. If law enforcement organizations ask for cooperation or if there is a need for coordination, we will help,” said the military spokesman.

The government’s Central Committee on Prevention, Control and Treatment on COVID-19 has extended restrictions on gatherings and a curfew between 12 am and 4 am until July 31. The measures also apply to Myawaddy.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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