Burma

Rangoon MP: Owners of Unlawful Game Centers Should be Punished—Not Employees

By Moe Myint 24 April 2017

RANGOON — A lawmaker has called for clearer definitions of illegal gambling machines sometimes found in “game centers” in Rangoon and more accountability for the owners of such firms.

MP U Than Naing Oo of Panbedan Township asked Rangoon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe in a divisional parliamentary session on Monday to specify illegal gambling machines in game centers—also known as amusement arcades—as the 19th century legislation in use is too vague.

He cited the police shutdown of City Center located near Bogyoke Market in his constituency, which was raided on the charge of illegal gambling in early February. Nineteen employees were arrested, all of whom were detained in Insein prison.

U Than Naing Oo said some have been released on bail but did not give an exact number.

City Center owner Dr. Thein Myint, granted a license to run the business in 2009, and the firm’s manager were not charged, said U Than Naing Oo, adding that the workers believed the center was legally operating under the permission of the authorities.

He said most of the employees were graduates who had come to Rangoon to seek work.

“Some of them had weddings planned and others were going to attend their graduation ceremonies,” he said.

“The people responsible for game centers like these are escaping conviction while the young, innocent people who work there are being jailed. It’s a great loss.”

The lawmaker told The Irrawaddy that he would raise the issue again in the coming days in parliament and emphasized the need to release the young employees of City Center.

Organized gambling is illegal in Burma under the 1899 Gambling Act, which forbids “advancing or furnishing money for the purpose of gaming” and “using the instruments of gaming for the profit or gain of the person owning.”

A person partaking in gambling can be punished with at least six months in prison if found guilty. A business owner allowing gambling can receive one year in prison and have their business license revoked.

Police targeted the game center, said U Than Naing Oo, because it had a fish catching group video game, known as the “Shark Game” locally. The Irrawaddy has observed other game centers in downtown Rangoon that use the same machines.

“The issue of specifying what machines are illegal is the responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce,” said U Maung Maung Soe, answering on behalf of the city’s Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Tin Aung Tun.

“We will provide a list [to U Than Naing Oo] of all licensed game centers which are officially operating on the ground.”

He said authorities regularly visit the 43 Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC)-licensed game centers in Rangoon to see if they are following rules and regulations.

YCDC began allowing game centers to provide entertainment in the form of video games, arcade games, small rides, dance machines and shooting galleries in 2013.

U Maung Maung Soe added that the government stopped issuing new licenses in 2014 and the game centers required the recommendation of local police and several government departments.

In late October 2016, two National League for Democracy lawmakers asked the regional parliament whether the government would address unlawful game centers.

Border affairs minister Col. Tin Aung Tun promised the lawmakers that if his department discovered game centers acting illegally they would take action against the owners.

He said YCDC would reconsider whether existing permits should be extended or halted and that Rangoon Division Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein would personally supervise the license approval process.

“Call me immediately if officials fail to arrest unlawful game center owners and I will deal with it directly,” Col. Tin Aung Tun told the lawmakers.

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