Reading Time: 4 minutes
Daytime in Myawady city (Myanmar) near the Thai border in Kayin State is crowded with trucks and travellers to Thailand, but after 6pm, its streets become less congested.
The darkness that descends on the city is broken only by the light provided by generators. Small shops start packing up their remaining stock. In the silent and cool night, the liveliest places in Myawady are casinos.
I reached the famous Three Nines Casino in Myawady in early February. At the gate, guards with weapons stopped the car.
“Are you playing at the casino?” they asked.
When a young guy who accompanied me nodded, they let the car pass. After a few minutes, we arrived at a brightly lit place that looked like a restaurant or hotel. Its parking lot had hundreds of cars.
There are many casinos, stores and restaurants in Myawady city on the Thaungyin river, which locals say are owned by Thai businessmen. When people enter the casinos, security guards conduct thorough body searches.
Business is good inside the main gambling hall. Under spotlights and cameras, young ladies are busy dealing cards. Most of the gamblers are well-dressed Thais. Games include kyar nagar, shan koe mi, jackpot and fish. Most customers pay in Thai baht. The pit bosses are Thai women.
Waitresses carry trays and serve gamblers drinks and food so they don’t have to leave the tables. For those who don’t want to find a place to eat and sleep in Myawady, casinos are a convenient place to kill time, said resident driver Ko Phyo Gyi.
There are many restaurants near the casinos and the food is free for heavy gamblers.
“Hey, youk pha [which means ‘brother-in-law’, but colloquially means ‘dude’ or ‘bro’], bet on the red,” Ko Naing, 30, who sold his bicycle shop to come to play at Tiger Dragon casino, told me. He looked like he had passed many sleepless nights.
He had played for three straight days when I met him and had no more cash, but he was still giving advice to others. While he was talking, a bell was rung by a supervisor and bets were paid back in 1000-, 100- and 20-baht notes.
Ko Naing showed me the lucky draw slips he had been given as a heavy gambler.
“I will go back after the lucky numbers are drawn. At about midnight, the owner herself will come out to draw the numbers. Prizes include motorcycles, beds, pillows and other goods,” he said.
The casino has many surveillance cameras and security guards keep their eye on everyone in the hall.
When night comes, a crowd of Thais enters Myawady city from across the Thaungyin, which Thais call the Moei, River. At midnight, the 24-hour casino is the most crowded place in Myawady. Ko Naing says Myanmar migrant workers also come to the casino from the Thai side.
The casino has a three-digit lottery, which it draws every morning and every night. The second largest room, on the right side of the main gambling hall, has a ring for the tiger and dragon game.
One casino employee takes out his phone and opens an app called “M Club”. Another staff member then hands him a piece of paper with the words “Myawady Online” on it. A username, password, and rules are printed on the paper, which allows users to play casino games online. The paper includes a 1000-baht (K43,000) credit to begin playing. An internet or phone connection is required to play the game. Preparations are being made so that the games at Three Nines Casino in Myawady can be played online, but it is still a work in progress.
Crime in Myawady has increased, so locals demonstrated in January to close the casinos and gambling dens in the city. Residents say there have been many murders, thefts, robberies, burglaries, swindles, and pickpockets because of the gambling.
“It has been about two years since we were able to hang our longyis outside at night,” the wife of driver Ko Phyo Gyi said.
Gambling places have increased since 2010 and, at the beginning of 2016, casinos became very popular, said township chairman U Tun Nay Aung of the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
“They can be controlled if there is local development and law enforcement,” he said.
Myawady township Police Captain Min Ko said there are no more gambling places in downtown Myawady and police have taken action in 18 gambling cases.
“If they continue, they will be arrested. It is not allowed in the city anymore,” said Major Naing Maung Zaw of the border guards.
Although there are casinos outside of Myawady where people can play with foreign currency, they are now closed during the annual school matriculation exams.
“I don’t know what will happen after the exams. If gambling destroys people’s lives, it will no longer be allowed,” Major Naing Maung Zaw said.
There are altogether 10 casinos, including one at almost every checkpoint under the control of the Myawady border guards, said U Thant Zin Maung, state Hluttaw MP for Myawady.
“There are many casinos along the river located at the gates controlled by the border guards,” he said.
Although locals in Myawady want casinos eliminated, the central government wants to allow casinos in the border area in order to earn money to pay off foreign debts and will give permission to foreigner-only casinos on islands that tourists visit, U Ohn Maung, the minister of Hotels and Tourism, told the Pyithu Hluttaw in February.
Casinos are making a fortune in Macao and Singapore, so Myanmar, which has a foreign debt of about US$10 billion, should allow casinos, U Aung Hlaing Win, Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Mingaladon township in Yangon, said recently.
There are about 70 gambling dens in Myawady town, and although police and border guards have promised to eliminate them, business is still bustling at the casinos on the banks of the Thaungyin.
Source: European Gaming Media and Events