Wed, Feb 25, 2009
The New Paper
Gone in half a minute

[top- BUSTLING: Casino Alley bustling by day with gamblers as well as prostitutes, but the illegal business disappears when there's a police presence.]

A YEAR ago, these backlanes in Geylang were known as 'Casino Alley'.

Lit in the night by fluorescent lamps, these makeshift gambling tables enticed punters, while porn DVD sellers peddled their wares.

But in the past few months, these backlanes between Lorong 14 and Lorong 18 have been quiet at night.

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This is thanks to the presence of a police van parked in one of the backlanes, almost throughout the night.

One frequent visitor to the area, a 42-year-old part-time tutor who wanted to be known as Victor, said: 'Every time I've come here in the night over the past few months, the police vans have been parked here. They are here till early in the morning. And the police walk around the lanes to make sure no one tries to be funny.'

But this has not entirely stopped the illegal gambling operators.

They have moved their operations to the day.

Now, the tables are set up every afternoon, in broad daylight, according to an attendant at a nearby petrol station.

'If they get caught, they will get a fine. But most of them are foreigners anyway. They come here for one month, make money and then go away. So they are not afraid,' said the attendant, who declined to be named.

Those convicted of gambling in public can be fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to six months. Gambling operators face up to five years in jail and a fine of more than $20,000.

Quick to set up

Last Friday, The New Paper witnessed how the gambling operations took just 10 minutes to set up. Folding tables are brought out from nearby houses and set up.

Plastic gambling mats, sectioned out like those in a legal casino, are placed on top of the tables. And they are ready to go.

Stones are placed on top of the tables as paperweights and then 'croupiers' start enticing patrons to wager money, as they roll the dice to determine who wins or loses.

Each of the eight to nine tables seem to have several people acting as lookouts, and others pretending to be patrons to attract more customers.

The noise level is high and many of the accents are foreign. The dealers seem to be from Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh and China.

'Put money, win money. Big money, small money. Easy! Easy! Come play, boss.'

The lookouts, however, look more local, sitting at some distance but watching the action closely.

And they are needed too. If a police squad car moves into the area, the speed at which the operations can be dismantled is startling.

The gambling mats are used to haul up everything on the table, and the croupiers and their associates disappear - in 30 seconds or less.

Said Victor, who has gambled at the tables: 'Sometimes, there is no police car and they all scramble, taking your bets away in the process.

'I suspect that it's part of the scam, and they do it when there is a lot riding on the table.

'The patrons are usually too scared to do anything, and when they re-open again, they tell them that the money earlier is 'burnt'.'

Many of those who gamble at the lanes are foreign workers, like Mr R Palanisamy, 33, who lost $30 in 20minutes. Said the Indian national: 'Our boss dropped us off here because some of the workers wanted to come here for the girls.

'My pay day was just two days ago, so I decided to try. I was winning at first but suddenly the luck was gone. But I stopped before losing all the money in my wallet.'

Has he gambled there before?

'No, I didn't the last time, but I watched my friend. He won a bit of money and we all ate some food at the restaurant nearby.'

Isn't he worried about gambling in broad daylight?

Said Mr Palanisamy: 'Of course I am worried. But there are so many people in the lanes doing it. I'm sure the police will catch the people who run the table, and not us, right?'

When contacted, a police spokesman said that police officers are deployed to patrol the backlanes of Geylang to deter illegal gambling activities and other crimes.

The spokesman added that the police will continue to monitor the situation and take enforcement action accordingly.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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