2,300 arrested in gambling, vice sweep

More than 2,300 people have been arrested and HK$3.6 billion in bookmaking records seized in a joint operation by Hong Kong, Guangdong and Macau police forces.

During “Operation Thunderbolt” from June to August, Hong Kong officers seized weapons and drugs and arrested suspected syndicate leaders.

Chief Superintendent Ryan Wong Wai, of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, said more than 38,000 officers in the SAR were deployed, including staff from Immigration, Customs and Excise, and Fire Services.

Officers raided nearly 2,000 premises, including bars, gaming centers, internet cafes and party rooms, resulting in the smashing of a number of gambling and vice establishments, as well as drug distribution centers.

He said police arrested 2,320 people – 1,616 men and 704 women, aged between 11 and 84 – for suspected triad-related and drug offenses, robbery, illegal immigration, illegal gambling, wounding and possession of offensive weapons.

Wong said the operation included a crackdown on illegal gambling activities during the European Football Championship in June, during which criminals made use of virtual bank accounts to receive bets.

The suspected leaders of the syndicates were arrested as officers seized more than HK$21 million in cash and froze a number of bank accounts with HK$19.5 million.

“We also seized bookmaking records that totaled HK$3.6 billion, which is the largest sum among similar cases in the past 10 years,” Wong said.

It is believed that police have also smashed two local illegal gambling gangs, Wong said.

The police broke up a gang in West Kowloon after a long-term undercover operation, arresting a group of senior leaders, Wong said.

Senior superintendent Eileen Chung Lai-yee said an 11-year-old boy, the youngest to be arrested in the operation, was held for allegedly beating others during a triad fight in August.

A 13-year-old boy was also arrested for allegedly splashing red paint on a debtor’s property when collecting debts. A 15-year-old boy was arrested after he told his classmates that he is a triad member.

Police issued 3,000 fixed penalty tickets for people who violated rules on public gatherings in gambling dens.

“Amid the pandemic, many illegal entertainment premises have become the breeding ground for the spread of the virus, and police have stepped up inspections of activities violating the social distancing rules,” Wong said.

Senior superintendent Tsang Chung-bun from the Kowloon West police district said many entertainment venues have moved to industrial buildings or residential buildings during the pandemic.

“We found that most people arrested in those places had never broken the law before. But they were all arrested together with those criminals because those places were controlled by triads,” Tsang said.

He added that many customers of unlicensed bars said they were not aware that it was an offense.

The operation saw more than 1,100 people arrested in Guangdong and 2,100 detained in Macau.

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