Malaysia unleashes 200-strong task force to tackle illegal gambling

malaysia-gambling-crackdownConfusion reigns in Malaysia as to whether the country is preparing to authorize a second resort casino. Shortly before Christmas, rumors spread that local property firm Berjaya Assets was looking to build a gaming facility in Johor Baru just over the Malaysia-Singapore causeway. Two weeks later, these rumors were dismissed by Johor’s Chief Minister, who said not only had he not received any casino proposal but wouldn’t approve one if it was submitted. However, the issuing of casino licenses is the sole responsibility of Malaysia’s federal government in Putrajaya, which has been dead silent on the matter.

The government has been anything but silent on the subject of unauthorized gambling operations, be they land-based or online. This week, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced the formation of a 200-strong special police squad – the Special Task Force on Organized Crime (Statoc) – dedicated to putting illegal gambling operators out of business. The New Straits Times quoted Zahid saying he wanted illegal operators to know “that we mean business.” Zahid warned operators “both conventional and online, to close down their business now, and not mess with us.”

Initially, Statoc intends to focus its efforts on the capital Kuala Lumpur, as well as the western state of Selangor, where the government estimates around 2k illegal gambling dens are operating. Zahid also put local police on notice, saying that if they failed to pursue illegal operators with sufficient zeal, he would send in federal reinforcements to “take over the job.”

So once all these illegal operations are shut down, where does that leave gamblers who can’t afford to trek all the way to Genting Highlands, the country’s only authorized casino? There’s always Sports Toto, Magnum Bhd and Pan Malaysian Pools, the country’s three licensed number forecasting operators (NFO). The NFOs are already forbidden from selling tickets to Muslims, who account for nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 30m residents. Now a member of parliament from the state of Negeri Sembilan wants further curbs put on the temptations these lottery operators can present.

Anthony Loke, MP for state capital Seremban, wants the federal government to cancel permits for the NFO’s Special Draws, which are normally held once per month on a Tuesday, in addition to the regular Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday draws. Loke said canceling the permits might cost the government RM150m (US $46m) in annual tax revenue, but he urged the government to consider “the social cost” of providing citizens with extra opportunities to gamble (such as it is).