Police shut down 11 underground mahjong clubs in Shau Kei Wan this week and busted 129 people, many of them elderly.
Bravo, Hong Kong's finest! All I can say is, don't you have better things to do than deploying more than 60 officers to harass old people and housewives. Surely most just wanted to play a few games of low-stakes mahjong to fight boredom or to socialise with neighbours? We are not talking about gambling dens controlled by triad syndicates with millions of dollars' turnover. Even the police have admitted that. The parlours were smalltime operators, almost a neighbourhood service that charged HK$20 for 90 minutes of play to cover the overheads. Each game involved about HK$20 to HK$30. Most players were retirees from the neighbourhood. For such a well co-ordinated operation, officers netted a whopping HK$8,000! Wow, maybe the operators needed to commit money laundering for such a princely sum! The raid was launched after police received intelligence. Intelligence? The snitch had too much time on his hands.
But the police were just doing their job and enforcing the law, you say. Yeah, right! How many laws are on the statute books that are not enforced in Hong Kong? How about unlicensed home restaurants, for starters?
For small charge, the parlours offered tea, snacks and an air-conditioned place for the customers. Perhaps they should have gambled in each other's flats, and so no one would know. But most of them live in cramped flats, which are hardly welcoming to guests. Public recreational activities and facilities are woefully inadequate in low-income areas like Shau Kei Wan with an ageing population.
According to a neighbour, most visitors were old people. Many came in the early afternoon to chat with friends and socialise. Most went home early in the evening. Police said the parlours had been operating for a year. That may be the case. However, neighbours say such low-stakes games have been played publicly in the area for decades.
Now that the authorities have taken away one of the few sources of enjoyment and recreation for the elderly residents, they should have the decency to provide more services and facilities.