Is Gambling Legally Permitted in Southern Shan State?

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In an open big tent, a group of people is paying full attention to a traditional cup which is used as a cover on a plate. In front of that, lots of money is placed on each of the animal symbol painted on a big sheet of vinyl.

Gambling at Hsenwe
Gambling at Hsenwe

A person who is sitting behind the traditional cup is chewing Myanmar betel nuts, and tapping on the cup saying “Hands up! Time to reveal the winning symbol”, and he gently open the traditional cup.

The crowd shouted “Rooster!” cheering up while others are disappointedly mourning when the cup was lifted. The banker’s assistances are collecting some of the money on the vinyl sheet while giving some out to the winners.

After the military coup, various kinds of gambling are conducted publicly in Southern Shan State especially what the local called “Lay Kaung Kyin or a four sides spinning dice”. Lay Kaung Kyin is gambled not only in rural areas but also in the cities these days.

According to a ward administrator in Nyang Shwe township, the authorities have verbally informed the ward administrators, veterans, authorities at temples, and so on that gambling is allowed.

Lay Kaung Kyin or a four sides spinning dice gambling was only played in rural villages and was not widely available. It is now one of the popular gambling means both in the villages and in the cities after the coup.

“Whenever there is a religious festival, people are asked to organize gambling dens. Lay Kaung Kyin is the one that earns the authorities the most because both the banker and the players have to pay 5 percent of their money to the authorities. Other kinds of gambling are asked to pay on the daily basis,” the above ward administrator in Nyaung Shwe told SHAN.

Not only Lay Kaung Kyin but also other kind of gambling are included in the religious festivals. However, Lay Kaung Kyin is widely played nationwide, and usually it is conducted five days in a role in one place before moving to another place. A tax collection box is provided and the money is managed daily and sent to the relevant local authorities.

“The money from the tax collection box is divided among many stakeholders. For example, if it is conducted in my village, I will get the share as a ward administrator, the police, the Myanmar army, the cooks who make the food for the gamblers, transporters – the money is divided accordingly to those people after deducting the costs. At the end of the day, some gamblers pawned their gold, cars, motorcycles, and tractors when they lost,” the above ward administrator added.

Gambling at Hsenwe 2
Gambling at Hsenwe 2

According to an officer who is based at a police station in Taunggyi, crimes rate increased as a consequence of the gambling, and they are mostly not reported to the police. Most of the crimes are cars and motorcycles thieves, and burglaries.

“Even though the crimes are reported, we cannot do anything. It has been instructed that the case is first reported to the relevant ward administrator before going to the police station. Also, we only allow the gambling if the battalion commander in the area permits it, I do not want to go into detail for my security reason,” the above officer told SHAN.

Not only the gambling is organized in Southern Shan State villages and cities during summer but also in the tourist attraction city Kalaw. According to a gambling banker assistance in Aung Pan, various kinds of gambling are available at one of the religious festival in Shwe Min Pone village, Kalaw, and loads of people involve in the gambling.

“I was also in the Shwe Min Pone religious festival. The village is close to the gold mining areas, so people have lots of money to gamble,” the above assistance told SHAN.

According to a 22 years old woman who lives in the village, the locals could not perform Shwe Min Pone religious festival last year because of Covid-19. However, military authorities urge the local to not only organize the festival but also to include the gambling activities. The locals are concerned about the consequences that may arise later.

“Both my father and brother spent all their time at the gambling dens. All of their savings are gone, and I am worried that they will end up as gambler and illicit drugs user. Some of the locals also sell their properties to gamble, and it will be a disaster in the long run,” the woman told SHAN.

Since after the coup, the gambling are conducted as if it is legally permitted, and in the current festival season, people are preparing to organize gambling at most of the religious festivals, and concerns are mounted that this would have a long term negative consequences to the natives.

“I heard that gambling will be included in the soon to be celebrated Pindaya Thapaung festival. As this is the festival season, gambling bankers cannot be at every villages. However, some villages will not start the festival unless the gambling bankers are available. We also see the consequence, crops are being stolen these days. Such crimes only appear after the coup, and it is going to get worse because of the gambling,” an Aung Pan native and a warehouse owner, U Zaw, told SHAN.

Because of the gambling, illicit drugs are also widely sold and consumed these days. A methamphetamine pill costs between 2,000 to 3,000 Kyat according to the above banker’s assistance.

“Many of my friends were killing their time at tea shops and gaming café in the past, but they are now roaming around the festival instead. Even though prices went up for everything, the price of the illicit drug is not changing that much. Young people are trying it when they roam around the festival. It is making it worse because they do not go to school anymore,” a 19 years old young man who lives in Aung Pan told SHAN.

According to a warehouse owner, U Aung, one of the consequences of the gambling and illicit drugs is that farmers quit farming, and many of them are trying to sell their farms. Even though there is a huge inflation and Myanmar Kyat depreciation, the price of the farm land is not changing because many are selling it.

“We will hear all kind of problems in the village later on. As I am an elder in the village, many families look up to me to solve their problems; therefore, I know all of their burdens. Both women and young people are severely affected, and their education is lost. It will not be easy in the long run,” the above warehouse owner, U Aung, disappointedly explained the situation to SHAN.

Because of the military coup and the political instability, it has affected the national economy and the people livelihood. The permit to conduct gambling and sell illicit drugs is destroying the local young people. It is uneasy to predict how young people will overcome such situation or how such situation will end providing the current circumstances.

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