Local police seized more than 100 slot machines in a raid this month as authorities cracked down on illegal gambling operations in the northern Luang Namtha province, local residents and law enforcement officials told RFA.
On March 4, police and other government officials inspected restaurants and hotels located in the Long and Sing districts as well as the city of Luang Namtha after local people complained that some of the businesses were also illegal gambling dens.
“The raid was conducted to keep security and order in the province according to a provincial committee resolution issued in January,” police Major Somphone Souvannakasy told RFA’s Lao Service. “Now, we shut down the restaurants and hotels with slot-machines, and we will re-check the permits.”
While Major Somphone Souvannakasy told RFA that government officials are investigating the operators for prosecution, residents in the area say the gambling dens have ties with local officials.
“Some Chinese operators open restaurants and hotels, and then with the cooperation and permission of some of the local officials they install slot machines for gambling later on,” said a local resident, who talked on condition of anonymity.
Many Southeast Asian countries have seen a surge in casinos as both legal and illicit as gambling is generally illegal in China.
Laos has seen a casino building boom as mostly Chinese investors have built several veritable gambling palaces in the country. While the gambling concessions bring in cash for the government, most casino employees and customers are Chinese with a sprinkling of local people.
That also seemed to be the case for the illegal gambling operations in Luang Namtha.
“The gambling ran from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and the majority of players are Chinese with some Lao young people, some of whom are younger than 18 years old,” said the local resident who lives near the gambling district.
While there are doubts over how long it will last, the government-imposed shutdown appears to be working.
“It is good that the officials shut it down and now I do not see people come to play,” the resident told RFA
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.