Hong Kong Police Arrest 81 During Raids of 14 Triad-Linked Gambling Dens

  • More than 100 police officers raided the gambling dens during a five-day operation last week
  • The charges included management of a gambling establishment and drug trafficking
  • The gambling dens facilitated arcade machine betting and gave customers free drugs
  • China has launched a new crackdown on cross-border gambling ahead of Chinese New Year
Two Hong Kong police officers wearing face masks
Police officers in Hong Kong have arrested 81 people after raiding 14 gambling dens linked to organized crime groups. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Five days of police busts

Hong Kong police have arrested 81 people during a five-day operation in which they raided 14 gambling dens controlled by organized crime groups, known as triads.

offenses included possessing an offensive weapon, drug trafficking, and money laundering

More than 100 police officers cracked down on the illegal gambling dens last week. The operation took place between Wednesday and Sunday in Wan Chai and Eastern District on Hong Kong Island. In addition to managing a gambling establishment, offenses included possessing an offensive weapon, drug trafficking, money laundering and admitting to being a triad member.

Triads are organized crime groups typically originating from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan. The groups raise illicit funds through various illegal activities, such as organizing gambling dens, people trafficking, and extortion.

In a Monday announcement, Chief Inspector Tse Tsz-kwan from the Regional Anti Triad Unit said authorities seized HK$41,000 (US$5,288) during the gambling den busts. Police found an additional HK$40,000 (US$5,160) worth of drugs, including marijuana and crystal methamphetamine.

Arcade games and free meth

According to Tse Tsz-kwan, organized crime groups took advantage of the closure of arcade centers as a result of pandemic restrictions. They opened small-scale gambling venues in residential or commercial buildings. The triad-linked gambling dens offered betting on arcade machines, including fishing and shooting games. Police seized 31 such machines.

In order to draw potential customers into the venues, gambling ring members offered free illegal drugs. This included low-quality crystal meth in addition to drug paraphernalia. The gang also helped gambling customers purchase high-quality meth and marijuana.

The crime group made use of electronic payment systems to make their illicit funds less traceable. Tse said officers are still tracking down proceeds from the operations. “We’ll try to dig out the account holder, the details of the account holder, and trace the crime proceeds,” he explained on Monday. “Freezing the crime proceeds is one of our options.”

The ages of the suspects – including 51 men and 30 women – ranged between 21 and 77. Police said the offenders mainly consisted of ethnic minorities or Chinese citizens violating their Hong Kong travel conditions. This allowed them to avoid detection or arrest, with the dens reportedly in operation for at least six months before the raids.

China’s gambling crackdown

Hong Kong authorities are not alone in their attempts to crack down on illegal gambling. The Chinese government has stepped up efforts to combat cross-border gambling ahead of the Chinese New Year later this week.

new criminal penalties for anyone organizing overseas gambling

In a press briefing last Friday, China’s Ministry of Public Security outlined measures it would take to enforce a new amendment to the country’s criminal law. From March 1, the amendment will introduce new criminal penalties for anyone organizing overseas gambling trips for Chinese residents.

As part of this briefing, the ministry pledged to crack down on cross-border gambling during the New Year holiday. It said it would work with immigration authorities to do so, while also “strengthening law enforcement cooperation with certain countries.”

Liao Jinrong, the director of the Ministry’s Bureau of International Cooperation, said the crackdown will focus partly on junket operators as per the country’s new criminal law. However, the ministry promised leniency for any offenders who turned themselves in to the authorities before the end of April.

Elsewhere in Asia, Thailand’s police force has also been busy conducting its own anti-gambling operations. Last week, Thai police arrested 34 people during a raid of an online gambling operation that circulated over $33.2m. The gambling ring members ran their business in four converted shipping containers near the Cambodian border. Police shut down four illegal websites during the bust.