FEATURE: Stakes raised as China targets cross-border gambling gangs

BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Joint police operations rescue hundreds of Chinese hostages.

The Chinese visitors are picked up at airports or border checkpoints, taken to luxury hotels, served good wine and delicious food.

They are then each offered loans of gambling chips valued at more than 100,000 yuan ($14,600) to use in foreign casinos. They have to write IOUs in exchange for the chips.

To obtain all this, they only have to supply casinos with details of their China identity cards and flights. Or, at least, that is what they are told before being taken hostage.

Police in Yunnan province, working with their counterparts in neighbouring countries, have rescued 940 Chinese people who were held after they visited casinos overseas.

Officers launched a three-month campaign that targeted crimes involving cross-border gambling, kidnapping and illegal detention of Chinese citizens abroad.

The move was aimed at ensuring the security and stability of areas in Yunnan that border Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, and to protect the lives and property of local residents, according to a statement released by the Department of Public Security in Yunnan last month.

A Yunnan police officer, who asked not to be named, said that after the Chinese lose all their chips, gang members immediately detain them as hostages in the gamblers’ own rented residences.

“Their families in China are then told to help repay the victims’ gambling debts or asked to pay high amounts in ransom for their release. Otherwise, the victims will be tortured or beaten to the point where they become disabled,” he said.

“There are also some criminal gangs that use motorbikes and other forms of transportation to help Chinese who have not yet been granted official travel documents and visas to cross the border to visit casinos,” he added.

Heavy blow

According to the police statement, Yunnan police have zero tolerance toward cross-border gambling gangs and related crimes, and will launch more operations to combat them in coming years.

“Police from Yunnan will also further expand cooperation with counterparts in neighbouring countries to crack down on cross-border crimes and protect the safety of Chinese abroad in the coming months,” the statement added.

The statement also said a separate three-year campaign has been launched to focus on combating cross-border gambling and the kidnapping and detention of Chinese citizens, which is expected to help in containing illegal activities.

Police from China and neighbouring countries have detained 380 suspects after busting 45 criminal gangs and swooping on 62 gambling dens during the campaign.

Yunnan police have also successfully stopped more than 8,700 mainlanders from crossing the border illegally to gamble in underground casinos in the past three months, according to the statement.

The campaign has dealt a heavy blow to cross-border gambling and related crimes, and also played a role in ensuring the security and stability of the province’s border areas, the statement said.

It added that police will not relax their vigilance in combating cross-border gambling in the coming months.

The main battlefields for the campaign have been Yunnan’s border cities and prefectures of Pu’er, Xishuangbanna, Dehong and Lincang.

In Lincang alone, police busted 10 cross-border criminal gangs involved in kidnapping and detaining Chinese who owed gambling debts. In cooperation with their foreign counterparts, officers also swooped on five gambling dens used by local gangs to illegally detain Chinese who failed to repay such debts.

A total of 71 cases involving kidnapping and detaining Chinese were solved during the campaign and 26 Chinese were rescued by police from Lincang, helped by their foreign counterparts.

According to a police officer in Kunming, capital of Yunnan, criminals from home and abroad, in collusion with foreign casinos, have continuously lured Chinese residents with fake information through phone calls, WeChat, QQ and text messaging to cross the border to gamble in recent years.

According to the Yunnan officer who declined to be named, many criminals attract Chinese to gamble in overseas casinos by lying to them about employment opportunities, free loans and business cooperation. They also falsely promise to offer free transportation and accommodation to Chinese residents. All the Chinese who are detained abroad like to gamble and want to become rich overnight, the officer said.

Yunnan police have urged Chinese to increase awareness to prevent themselves falling victim to cross-border gangsters, and to avoid gambling in foreign casinos, as this can pose a high risk to personal safety and also loss of property, the officer said.

Gambling harms not only the gamblers themselves, but also their families and friends, he added.

Lei Zhuning, deputy director of the Myanmar Research Institute at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, praised the role the campaign has played in safeguarding and protecting the lives, property and dignity of Chinese abroad.

“This demonstrates the determination of Yunnan police to crack down on cross-border gambling, and crimes such as kidnapping and detention,” Lei said.

“Cross-border crime including smuggling, drug trafficking and money laundering have been rife in recent years for many reasons and this affected the security and stability of Yunnan’s border areas and its overall opening-up to the outside world,” he added.

“The timely crackdown has helped bring cross-border crimes and related illegal activity under control and played a big part in safeguarding the stability, harmony and healthy development of the border areas. It has also helped to ensure a good and sound climate for Yunnan to open wider to the outside world and promote economic construction,” Lei said.

Dong Sheng, a Lincang resident, attributed the growing number of Chinese residents who are crossing the border to gamble to “insatiable appetites”.

“Gamblers always want to win back what they have lost, and when they do this they always want to win even more,” Dong said.

“Casinos never worry about gamblers’ winning, but they worry about them leaving after they do win, as they will always eventually lose. Some may even lose all their property if they continue to visit casinos,” he said.

“Gambling addiction, like drug addiction, is very hard to quit. Many people might gamble for fun at first, but find it hard to quit after becoming addicted,” Dong added.

Stability affected

Li Qin, a villager from Xishuangbanna, said cross-border gambling had frequently been reported in the border town and had affected stability, production and residents’ lives.

“The advantage of being close to the border has encouraged some villagers who want to become rich overnight to go abroad to gamble in recent years,” she said.

Zhao Jiajia, a Dehong resident, called for more concrete and effective measures to be introduced to help prevent and combat cross-border gambling.

“Dehong has two exit and entry checkpoints and these offer convenient and easy channels for locals to cross the border for business and sightseeing, but lawbreakers and gamblers also find it very easy to leave the mainland to gamble abroad,” she said.

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