A significant operation
Police shut down 22 illegal gambling operations on Hong Kong Island, arresting 153 people, over the course of a two week operation. The gambling dens, which had become more popular as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, were under the control of triad gangs.
an opportunity to set up illegal gambling dens
Legal mahjong parlors and game centers have been closed in the region as part of the efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Hong Kong Island regional anti-triad squad chief inspector Tse Tsz-Kwan, the triads saw this as an opportunity to set up illegal gambling dens to attract customers and make quick cash.
The dens were operating out of old residential buildings, industrial and commercial properties, and even a garage. Of the 22 locations, 17 of them offered fishing arcade machines, while the others offered mahjong games. Gamblers would buy cards to record scores and then exchange the subsequent points for cash.
In Hong Kong, gambling illegally carries a maximum fine of HK$30,000 (US$3,870) and up to nine months of jail time. The operation of an illegal gambling facility comes with a HK$5m (US$650,000) fine and up to seven years in jail.
HK$63,000 (US$8,128) worth of cash seized in the raids
The two week operation by the authorities, called “Arrowhorn,” began on August 10. Of the 153 arrests, 91 were men and 62 were women. There were 34 arcade machines, 15 mahjong tables, and HK$63,000 (US$8,128) worth of cash seized in the raids. Some illegal drugs and gambling chips were also part of the seizures.
The 153 arrests were for varying offenses, including gambling unlawfully, operation of a gambling establishment, breaching condition of stay, and trafficking in a dangerous drug. There were 17 non-Chinese residents among those who were under arrest.
Virus transmission risk
Hong Kong Island regional crime unit chief inspector Lam Man-yee spoke about how gamblers were offered free drinks, snacks, and even illegal drugs in some of the dens. She also explained about how the venues increased the risk of COVID-19 transmission due to their poor sanitization and ventilation.
Police fined 111 of the suspects HK$2,000 (US$258) each for violating pandemic rules ,which do not allow more than two people to gather. Tse believes that shutting down these dens is a major blow to the triad gangs, impacting their revenue sources.