Saturday, May 28, 2022

Stricter casino regulations spawn illegal gambling dens


In early June, a nondescript three-storey yellow building in a smart area of Lalitpur, south of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, became the site of one of the biggest raids on illegal gambling in the country. The operation was discovered as part of a crackdown on underground betting, which has surged since Nepal introduced new regulation to raise standards in its casino industry, strictly enforcing a locals ban. 

The second and third floors of the building were purportedly home to the Career Development Training Institute but in reality hosted an illegal gambling den. A gate led to an adjacent building, which housed the Charkol Lounge and Bar.

That June afternoon, several men and women were caught mid-game, playing cards in hand and chips on the baccarat table. The 35-strong police force in plainclothes and under the command of Meera Chaudhary, superintendent of police, rounded up 24 people including three women and three men dressed in formal suits and serving as croupiers.

Chaudhary who also serves as a spokesperson at the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), a special unit of Nepal’s police, said they seized 14 sets of closed circuit television cameras, which constantly monitored people’s movement inside the well-operated den. They also seized 7004750 Nepali rupees ($67,864), more than 8000 chips of various colors and 132 decks of playing cards.

Authorities say this was by far the largest illegal gambling parlor to have been raided in recent years. But its existence and numerous raids in recent months in Kathmandu and areas surrounding it has laid bare that fact that illegal gambling has risen due to stricter regulations barring Nepalese from the country’s casinos. This has lead to calls for greater penalties for illegal operators and for the government to consider allowing locals to gamble.

“There has been significant increase in illegal gambling,” Chaudhary told AGB.

The CIB handed the case to the district police office, which filed it at the district court. But the accused have already been released after a scanty fine of 200 rupees ($2). “We worked so hard to carry out this operation, but it’s frustrating when gamblers and those who run the dens are let off the hook with such fine,” said Chaudhary. She said the facility, which had been running for more than a year, was only a few yards from the nearest police office.

Nishchal Chapagain, a Kathmandu-based casino consultant, said at least half a dozen illegal gambling dens, with daily games worth five to six million rupees were under operation in the Kathmandu valley, which includes three cities -- the capital Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. The total population of these three cities is well over five million.

“The croupiers would make 5 percent commission for the games. Most operators get away with this by bribing the local police,” he said.

“These operators are taking advantage of the strict surveillance at the casinos,” he said, adding that real estate developers, recruitment agents, and even top government bureaucrats frequented the illegal gaming parlours.

In March, eight people were arrested while gambling at a restaurant on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Police seized 67240 rupees ($652) from them. In October last year, 16 gamblers were arrested from a hotel along with 2.5 million rupees and 16 sets of seashells used as devices for gambling.

Nepal introduced new casino regulation in July 2013, which led to the shutdown of the country's 10 casinos. The new legislation raised the paid-up capital, license fees and introduced other rules, which some casino operators have said was detrimental to the industry.

However, the new regime has helped to attract more foreign investment by raising standards closer to international levels. Now five casinos--Millionaire's Club at Hotel Shangri-la, Pride Casino at Hotel Hyatt, Casino Royale at Yak and Yeti, Casino Rad at the Hotel Radisson and Casino Mahjong at Soaltee Crown Plaza—operate in Kathmandu. Australia-listed Silver Heritage is constructing Nepal’s first IR, the Tiger Palace at Bhairahawa in the south of the country.

Kumar Shrestha, a former operations manager at Casino Anna, told AGB that locals, after being barred from casinos, have turned to the game via illegal means. “Some of the gambling dens have been operated by the casino workers who were laid off after the closure of casinos following the new regulations,” he said.

“They had maintained contacts from their last job and knew how to operate it. They might have been attracted by the easy money as well,” he said.

Shrestha also called for an amendment of the Gambling Act of 1963 to reflect the scope of the crime and to increase punishment.

“The fine must be increased to the level that matches the current economy. There must be a jail sentence for the offence. That will discourage the operators from running it,” he said.

Lastly, he urged the government to allow Nepalese to legally gamble in the casinos. “The government should place a betting limit and allow them to play in certain casinos. If we bar them from casinos, such illegal parlours will continue to thrive,” he added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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