Gambling on-the-go - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

GAMBLING in chalets is nothing.

Gambling at funeral wakes is passe.

Mobile casinos are the in thing. Organisers even chauffeur the high rollers to the set-up.

Convicted for illegal gambling, Andrew wears an electronic tag around his ankle under the home detention scheme, so that his movements can be monitored.

These high-stakes punters, who are discreet and very mobile, are always alerted to the next meeting point.

The operators set up shop in the most unlikely of places such as factories, containers and sometimes temples.

You can also find them in fish farms and jungles. They keep moving from one spot to the other to avoid detection.

They call their regular clients to inform them of the next meeting place, said a gambler, who is now serving time after being caught gambling in a chalet.

As we cannot name him, we shall call him Andrew. He is now under home detention.

He claims it was just a gathering of friends and that they were gambling to pass the time.

Did he organise the session?

Andrew denies it, insisting all he did was to book the chalet.

But he said there are many other organisers.

Giving an insight into how carefully these operations are run, Andrew said: The organisers have the phone numbers of the regulars and they will inform them where to meet next.

He first ventured into a den hidden in a jungle somewhere in the north when friends took him there a few years ago.

ACCOMPANIED BY REGULAR

A new client has to be accompanied by a regular to get entry to the dens.

After the first time, they try and get your number so that they can call you again, he said.

For those who are up for it, the operators get them picked up from a meeting point in discreet Japanese 1.6L cars.

Or they give directions to get to the spot by car.

In the case of a jungle den, gamblers park their cars once they arrive at the mouth of the jungle.

Its hard to miss the paid lookouts in the area.

They then trek more than 10 minutes into the jungle to get to the location.

Its common to see 10 to 20 mostly Japanese cars parked there, said Andrew. The richer people usually get someone to drop them there.

The path is laid with wooden boards to make it easier for gamblers to find their way amid the thick undergrowth.

The set-up is extremely basic. At the centre is a shelter - made up of four poles and a simple roof - which is dismantled after a session.

The area is barely the size of a HDB living room.

There are mobile generators to power the lights but no toilets.

On the gaming table, a soft board is placed to prevent the cards from getting damaged from extended use.

The standard game played is si-ki-phuay, a four-card game like poker.

These dens can operate any time depending on whether there are people wanting to patronise them.

During a session, the place can attract 30 to 40 people.

There are all sorts of people - businessmen, hawkers, loansharks, housewives, and even full-time gamblers, Andrew said.

People are known by their nicknames or vocations rather than their real names, he added.

Its usually very quiet when the cards are laid on the table, and when people are looking at their cards.

But when all the cards are finally revealed by the banker, theres always a din from the largely Hokkien-speaking crowd.

However, even with the noise, Andrew said, no one can hear the punters as they cant be heard from under all the trees.

The bets average $300 to $500 per person, but Andrew has seen one person wager more than $40,000 in one game.

It was all in cash, he emphasised.

People play until they win. If not, they just wont stop.

Although mosquito coils are used, there are still plenty of mosquitoes flying around.

But that hardly bothers the punters. He explained: When they gamble, they dont think of mosquitoes or even food.

Still, they are treated to bottled drinks or packets of nasi lemak or noodles. Sometimes, theres even a big pot of porridge.

Regulars and the high rollers are served beer.

Who exactly are these sophisticated operators?

Made up of both men and women, these full-time operators have been at it since the 80s or 90s, and they make a living out of operating dens, said Andrew.

And it pays to bring new people to the dens.

COMMISSIONS

I understand that sometimes they give a commission of $50 to $100 if you introduce new people, said Andrew.

After his arrest, he has lost touch with the organisers.

Andrew said the dens are not only confined to the jungles. They also pop up in factories and warehouses, especially in more remote areas when an organiser rents a part of the premises from the owner.

There have also been sessions in containers and fish farms.

At all these places, the gamblers have to pass security guards and several lookouts to get in.

As long as people can make money, they will turn up.

It doesnt matter where.

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Police keeping watch on chalets, wakes

SOME escape to chalets to unwind with family and friends.

Others go there to gamble, thinking they can blend in with the crowd.

But the police have seen through their game.

On 17 Dec last year, the police staked out a particular chalet at the National Service Resort & Country Club (NSRCC) in Changi and arrested all 16 people on suspicion of illegal gambling.

Of the 13 who were charged, one claimed trial and the rest pleaded guilty. They were charged for gaming in a common gaming house.

From the year 2000, 132 people have been arrested for using chalets as mini casinos.

In 2003, more than 300 were arrested at gambling dens.

FUNERAL WAKES

The New Paper has learnt that runners operate a few tables at funeral wakes as their own gambling tables.

The grieving family is paid a token sum and strangers would turn up and occupy the tables to play either mahjong or card games.

But police have been tracking this group, too.

Now gamblers have turned to chalets.

Said a police spokesperson: Police have been monitoring the gambling situation at the chalets closely and will not hesitate to take enforcement action against any illegal gambling activities detected.

There were two cases of gambling in chalets in 2001 and once each in 2000, 2002, 2003 and last year.

A spokesperson for NSRCC said the resort will work closely with the police and report any suspicious activities.

There was only that one case at the resort in the past year, she added.

The resort has 32 chalets and a mahjong table and set are provided in each of them.

In January 2000, police officers raided a two-storey steel factory in Tuas and arrested 16 people engaged in illegal gambling.

More than $70,000 in cash and gambling chips were seized. Another $75,000 in cash was found on the punters.

The New Paper has learnt that the number of dens have decreased in the past few months because of the police crackdown.

And all too often, the same individuals are involved.

Den operators can face up to five years in jail and a $200,000 fine. Gamblers face up to six months jail and a $5,000 fine.

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