Hong Kong police have launched a crackdown on two triad gangs battling over their efforts to solicit mainland customers to patronise casino ships.
Factions of the Wo Shing Wo and Sun Yee On triad societies are at odds over their efforts to attract passengers arriving at the Hung Hom railway station, detectives say.
The dispute began when the Wo Shing Wo tried to muscle in on their rivals' pitch on Cheong Wan Road outside the station - one of several locations where gangsters offer free overnight voyages to customers who buy discounted gambling chips.
"Those who buy more than HK$50,000 in chips from mud-chip agents will be offered a free ticket and room for the overnight cruise," a police source said.
"Mud chips" is the underworld term for discounted chips.
The source said gang members earned commissions based on the number of clients and the amount the clients gambled.
The Wo Shing Wo faction leader, known as Fei Sing, sent female agents to solicit in Cheong Wan Road last month, a police source said.
The intrusion on territory that Sun Yee On had been working since last year sparked "negotiations" among about 35 mobsters in broad daylight outside the station on June 28, police say.
Although they had gone when officers arrived, police feared potential violence and raided more than 30 locations on July 3 and 4, arresting eight suspected triad members.
On July 4, about 50 anti-triad detectives also boarded two casino ships to conduct inquiries but no arrests were made.
The eight Hong Kong men have been released on bail; none has been charged. Police are still hunting for others involved.
The source said the crackdown delivered a message to triads. "If they fail to regulate themselves in the underworld, police will take over and regulate them."
Some seven casino ships pick up passengers with shuttle ferries at piers in Tsim Sha Tsui and Hung Hom between 7pm and 7.45pm every night.
Three triad groups - the Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo and Wo On Lok - each had an agreed site in Tsim Sha Tsui to solicit gamblers, another source said.
"To avoid police interruption, they send in female agents instead of tattooed gangsters to find clients from lunchtime to 7pm every day," this source said.
The source said each gang could pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through such business.
"Finding clients to gamble in casino ships and selling mud chips are not their main profits. Providing high-interest loans to gamblers is their major source of income."
He said those who lost heavily at gambling were the main targets of the three gangs.