Officials and experts agree on a much needed update
Even though the law enforcement agencies have detained and arrested nearly 200 people over the past week during a crackdown on illegal casinos and gambling establishments in Dhaka and elsewhere, they have not filed any cases against them under the country’s existing “weak” gambling laws.
Law enforcement officials and legal experts say that is because the existing laws are too old and inadequate to take exemplary action against those arrested for either running or participating in such acts.
Faced with the dilemma and based on evidence collected during the raid, the law enforcement agencies were somewhat forced to charge the detainees and arrestees under narcotics, arms and money laundering acts.
The agencies are unable to invoke the current law, Public Gambling Act of 1867, against the arrestees as its first section says it is applicable across Bangladesh “except a Metropolitan Area” — like the capital, Dhaka.
Also, Section 92 of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Ordinance 1976 stipulates a Tk100 fine only for public gambling.
Since September 18, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has raided a number of sporting clubs in different areas, including Motijheel and Fakirapool, of Dhaka, busting active illegal casinos inside them.
They also confiscated various gambling equipment, huge amounts of money and alcohol from these establishments.
Some of the casinos were, however, found abandoned during raids. Sources said the owners and gamblers of these casinos may have fled after being tipped off.
RAB, on September 18, also arrested Awami Jubo League leader Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan for running one of the casinos. But cases against him were filed under the narcotics, arms and money laundering acts.
A RAB mobile court had also handed jail terms ranging from six months to a year to over 180 others who were detained during the raids that day.
Since September 18, the clubs that have been raided by RAB and Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) include Fakirerpool Youngmen’s Club, Dhaka Wanderers’ Club, Muktijoddha Krira Chakra, Muktijoddha Sangha Club, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Victoria Sporting Club, Dilkusha Sporting Club and Arambagh Krira Sangha.
DMP’s Motijheel Zone Assistant Commissioner Mishu Bishwas said they conducted the raids based on information from their informants.
“We found abandoned gambling equipment in some of the casinos during the raids. These clubs were sealed afterwards,” he said.
He added that they filed general diaries over the matter and notified the courts concerned.
No officials were found available to comment on why action against the detainees and arrestees were not taken under the gambling act.
Updating a must
Public Gambling Act’s Section 3 says, as penalty for owning or keeping or having charge of common gaming-house shall be liable, on conviction before any magistrate to a fine not exceeding Tk200, or imprisonment of either description, as defined in the Penal Code for any term not exceeding three months.
According to Section 4 of the act, whoever is found in any such house, tent, room, space, or walled enclosure, playing or gaming with cards, dice, counters, money or other instruments of gaming, or is found there present for the purpose of gaming, whether playing for any money, wager, stake or otherwise, shall be liable, on conviction before any magistrate, to a fine not exceeding Tk100 or to imprisonment of either description, as defined in the Penal Code, for any term not exceeding one month.
Article 18 (2) of the constitution says, as a fundamental principle of state policy, the state shall adopt effective measures to prevent prostitution and gambling.
But the current and past governments of the country did not think of updating the gambling section which is over 150 years old.
When asked, Police Headquarters' Assistant Inspector General (media) Sohel Rana agreed.
“These laws are indeed very old. Initiatives should be taken to update them,” he said.
RAB’s legal officer and Executive Magistrate Md Gausul Azam told Dhaka Tribune that when a magistrate conducts a drive, he or she has to follow the existing laws and rules. “There is no chance to operate outside the law.”
“The Public Gambling Act is very old. It should be updated for the public interest,” he said.
The magistrate added: “We have also received many complaints about some online games. This is the era of advanced technologies. It should be clear when the law must be updated.
“Besides, a specific and updated law can be promulgated to address gambling and casinos.”
Law Minister Anisul Huq recently told reporters that they were considering updating the Public Gambling Act. “Because we were not aware that such gambling activities were taking place. We need to formulate an effective law to put an end to gambling.”
Talking to Dhaka Tribune yesterday, the minister said his ministry has already taken this matter into its agenda. “We will start discussing the issue after the prime minister returns home [from the US].”
Senior lawyer and former Supreme Court Bar Association president Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said: “Laws can be changed, but it is not the only solution.”
He said: “Western countries have casinos. But here, other illegal activities take place besides the gambling in the casinos.”
“Law enforcement agencies should have been more alert in preventing such illegal gambling activities. How did they let this happen?” he wondered.
Tanjir Rahman contributed to this report