With pictures of state of the art gambling dens on all the papers, the age-old Bengali saying comes to mind: Mod, nari, taash, ei tine e shorbonash! which translates to wine, women and cards, doom the life and break hearts!
After the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) busted casinos at sports clubs in Dhaka, many people seemed surprised. In shock, the common reaction was “Casinos in Dhaka!” Well, the reality is, in our society, most people live in a cocoon and doggedly refuse to get out of it to open their eyes to see the phenomenal changes that have taken place in society.
It seems for many, the policy is “I would rather not see or hear what is going on.” In fact, Dhaka has all the vices common in cosmopolitan cities. Well, maybe ‘vice’ is not the right word here because what is sin for some is a sensation for others.
For instance, in the middle-class conservative urban life, Dhaka’s intoxicated manifestation in its many bars and pubs may appear incredulous. But the truth is, in a five-kilometre radius of any part of Dhaka, there are at least five licensed bars where thousands of people seek out after-sunset ‘sparkles’ in spirit.
In fact, some of the bars also have music and dance shows where women, mostly from middle-class backgrounds, work.
Most of these women never discuss the place where they work within their social circles, and even if they did, others of the same social class would find it hard to believe them.
So, in this massive city there is a very shrewd and Machiavellian cloak and dagger operation going on with the sole purpose of vigorously putting up a puritanical face and a social creed of piety and virtue.
Sports clubs were always gambling dens
In the RAB drive on Wednesday (Sept 19) at Fakirerpool Youngmen's, Wanderers and Muktijoddha clubs, an elaborate gambling scene has been exposed but this is not a revelation to surprise us because sports clubs had always run ‘Housie’ or ‘Bingo’ from the early 80s to supplement their income.
Law enforcers never paid any attention to it and taking this chance, the bingo gradually morphed into something more sinister. Behind the club buildings’ rather modest façades the gambling has been going on for quite some time. In fact, some of the clubs do not even have any sporting involvement at all or, in some cases, the engagement is merely a formality and works as a veneer for the more lucrative gambling operation.
The Bingo was allowed to help clubs have an income of their own though most now feature high stakes card games like Blackjack, Poker and Baccarat.
From the pictures carried by the national dailies, the game that was on at most clubs was possibly Baccarat.
As per Bangla Tribune report, experienced croupiers were brought from China and Nepal to operate the gambling boards of Dhaka’s casinos. After Wednesday’s drive, names and details of several such people were found. RAB is investigating to find if they have work permits or not.
RAB carried out drives at casinos at Dhaka’s Banani, Motijheel, Fakirerpool and Gulistan. Under the disguise of sports organisations, such casinos operated in glitz and razzmatazz.
“We found Chinese and Nepalese citizens at the casino and are trying to find if they have work permits or not,” RAB Executive Magistrate Sarwar Alam told the media.
The drug and the political connection
Sean Connery cut a suave look at the cards table in “Dr. No” and all the James Bonds after he brought out the machismo in staking all without blinking and then remaining impassive in victory but the actual world of gambling is often seedy with drugs playing a pivotal role.
Since the government has declared a no-compromise stance on drugs, raids at gambling dens become essential because these spots also work as drug selling and buying points.
As per reports, the busted casinos were being run by people with strong political links and reportedly, one person is also a bigwig of Juba League, the ruling party’s youth affiliate.
This is a sad indictment of a society where political ties are being manipulated to run illegal operations. The recent expulsion of the leadership of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student front of Awami Leauge, was also an eye-opener as to how moral values have hit rock bottom to make way for depravity and avarice.
It appears that exploiting political links, a plethora of unscrupulous acts are underway and this can only be stopped when some kingpins are toppled.
The nationwide drive against Yaba has seen some results though so far, not a single big fish has been caught.
Unless the main patrons of vice are dealt with severely, the crime will remain dormant for a while and then see a recrudescence.
To look at the casino culture from another angle: since there are many licensed bars in the capital, the government can also think about operating authorised casinos at the top hotels which will ensure security and prevent the entry of sleazy people.
Some major hotels in Cox’s Bazar may also be given the license or a separate casino city can be established’ like in the Genting Highlands in Malaysia.
To be blunt, gambling is in the human gene, whether it’s on the card table or in livelihood enterprises — progress of human civilisation is about taking the risk and trying one’s luck— be it innovation, sport, romance, business or the arts. When Sean Connery lit the cigarette at the casino in “Dr. No” and looked at Sylvia Trench to say … “Bond, James Bond”... he was also taking a gamble since no one knew whether Sean, from a common background and disliked by Ian Fleming, would be accepted by the audience as a suave spy or not. He risked it and we know the rest.
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.