On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Don’t gamble our safety away

It is more likely that they will use their booty to buy drugs or pay off loan sharks for their escalating gambling debts. There is obviously a correlation between gambling and crime.

Nobody commits crime for entertainment or to make a point. That may happen in the movies but the reality is that most criminals do it to enrich themselves or simply to pay off debts.

Malaysians rank as some of the biggest gamblers in the world. In 2008, it was reported that authorities made 2,156 arrests and seized more than RM15mil in gambling assets. It was estimated then that illegal gambling raked in an astounding RM3.2bil in profits. One can only imagine what the figures would be today.

The New Straits Times reported that during the 2008 general election, gambling syndicates pocketed more than RM500mil from bets placed on the candidates. And Malaysians are not just interested in our own elections. They bet up to RM500mil on the last US presidential election which Barack Obama won. For good measure, the 2008 Olympics generated even more, with the figure reported at RM1bil.

The newspaper derived the figures from their own sources but no one should be surprised. It is now almost the end of 2012 and Obama is seeking re-election this week. We can imagine the kind of money that would be placed to bet on the outcome again. And come the Malaysian general election, you can be sure that the bets will also flow.

The Malay Mail reported that in 2010, police seized RM11.9mil in cash from illegal gambling syndicates when they conducted 270 operations during the 2010 World Cup.

The question is, if gambling is a highly regulated business, why is there so much underground gambling going on? What’s worse is it’s blatantly visible.

Something isn’t quite right, obviously. The underground gambling business has thrived simply because the operators know the authorities would never allow for more legitimate outlets, be they outlets or clubs. The Genting Casino is likely to be the first and last casino ever to be sanctioned in Malaysia.

The result is that illegal gambling dens, whether in the form of cyber cafes or online casinos, have mushroomed. In times of economic slowdown, gambling outlets actually perform better because desperate customers are driven to gamble for a supposedly quick fix to their financial problems.

Last week, The Star reported that illegal e-casinos, where computer gaming programmes and live games broadcast from the Philippines are used, continued to multiply in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur despite constant exposé by the media.

Even the few that had been raided and supposedly closed down had re-opened, according to my colleague who went undercover to investigate these places.

Starprobe revisited those illegal e-casinos which the team exposed in a report on Aug 2 last year and found that nothing has changed – they were still operating.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission should start its own probe and not wait for a formal report. Checks around Selangor and Kuala Lumpur have revealed that there are easily more than 2,000 outlets operating and some districts reportedly have more than 500. That does not include the thousands of massage parlours which the local authorities in Selangor seem to be doing nothing about.

Again, something does not seem to tally here. These outlets are known to the public and yet the police and council authorities appear to be turning a blind eye to them. Can we be faulted if we suspect there are rogue and corrupt elements here?

While the politicians are fearful of allowing regulated gaming because it would be religiously and politically wrong, illegal gambling seems to be flourishing. The consequences are a massive loss in revenue from unpaid taxes, and criminal elements are allowed to work alongside corrupt officials to benefit from such underground operations.

So, while legitimate gaming is controlled and tightly regulated, we see more of these illegal operations flourishing.

Are we seeing more crimes being committed these days because of such gambling activities?

Well, many non-governmental organisation activists, including the Malaysian Crime Prevention Federation vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye and MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Seri Michael Chong, share the suspicion.

There is just too much gambling going on now, legitimate or otherwise, and if we feel insecure after plenty of stories of being victims to crime, Malaysians must continue to speak up and demand answers for things that are not right.

Don’t gamble our safety away.