Chinese Newspaper Says Officials Are Losing the War on Gambling
China’s state-owned newspaper, People’s Daily, published an op-ed article suggesting that the nation was losing its war against illegal gambling in its rural areas. The piece was published on the eve of the Lunar New Year, as Inner Mongolia’s authorities launched an anti-gaming crackdown.
People’s Daily reported that 25,426 police officers in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region had been sent on anti-gambling raids. The mission is to stamp out all illegal gambling in China’s northern province, which borders the sovereign state of Outer Mongolia.
The Lunar New Year crackdown had 2,367 administrative cases, which generated 76 criminal cases involving illegal gambling activity. In all, the raids led to the confiscation of $554 thousand in US dollars.
Failure of Leadership, Dedication of Officers
The op-ed piece noted that the small number of arrests compared to the case files indicated failure of the crackdown. The People’s Daily praised the rank-and-file law enforcement officers who conducted raids, while castigating leadership for lack of planning.
One anecdote in the article pointed out the failure of leadership. One raid required a squad of 40 plain-clothes officers to walk 10 kilometers in -30° temperatures in order to conduct their raid. The gaming operation’s sentries used walkie-talkies to guard the roads to a warehouse where the illegal gambling was taking place.
Betting on “Digging Treasure”
The 40 officers busted a game known as “Digging Treasure”, a rudimentary Chinese game which involves four small sticks, each with its own unique markings. Using sleight of hand, one of the four sticks is placed in a bag, while gamblers wager on which of the four sticks is inside.
In that single warehouse, officials arrested over 60 gamblers and 4 organizers of the games. The gamblers were cited for “violating public security”, while the 4 organizers face years in prison for a litany of more serious charges.
Why Crack Down on Rural Gambling
Officials say the crackdown is needed, because the gaming operators prey on factory workers returning home after a year working in big-city factories. Instead of reuniting with their families and helping the household budget, some factory workers end up losing their year’s wages on games of Digging Treasure.
Leaders of the Chinese gambling crackdown say those workers often grow desperate to regain their lost bankroll. Ashamed or afraid to face their family after losing their money, the workers turn to various forms of crime to regain their lost wealth.
Blamed Provincial and National Governments
In a rare swipe at the government, the People’s Daily said the government is at least partly to blame for the illegal gaming dens. The op-ed said that officials should work to change conditions on the ground, especially the “lack of rural cultural and entertainment venues, spiritual emptiness, and monotonous cultural life” found in villages.
Part of the problem might be the classic case of former farmers going away to the bright lights of the big city, then finding village life unrewarding when they return home. Perhaps workers develop a gaming habit while in the city, though most reports suggest Chinese factory workers have long shifts on consecutive days and have little time for leisure.
Lectures and Education
Whatever the case, the People’s Daily recommended that small-time bettors and first-time offenders should not face harsh sentences, but instead be giving harsh “lectures” and “education”. The maximum sentence for a first-time gambling offense is 3 years in prison for the bettor — far in excess of the fines a western gambler might face.
Given the fact People’s Daily is a state-run newspaper, the publication likely will be seen as the voice of the Beijing government, handing down its advice. Thus, officials in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region are likely to provide lectures and education, instead of harsh sentences. The gaming organizers can expect a harsh prison sentence, for preying on workers.