An illegal gambling den that offered Texas hold 'em - the poker variation popular in North American casinos - to middle-class Hongkongers has been uncovered for the first time in Yau Ma Tei, police said yesterday.
Two operators and 30 gamblers were found playing poker on four tables when officers raided a private mahjong club in Tak Hing Street at about 10.30pm on Thursday. Betting chips with a face value of more than HK$160,000 were seized.
The den was in a secret room in the private club, police said. It had seven poker tables.
'Its door is just like part of the partition wall and is not easily noticed,' Inspector Fong Wai-ho of Yau Tsim district special duty squad said.
The gambling den, open from 9pm to 2am or 3am each day, had been in operation for at least a month, he said. Police are investigating whether it was run by a triad.
The casino served only regular customers to avoid detection, police said. 'Preliminary investigation showed that an admission fee was charged,' a police officer said.
According to the Gambling Ordinance, it is illegal to charge an admission fee to a gambling establishment, the officer said. But police would not say whether it also took a commission on money that was wagered.
'There are other circumstances to prove that the Gambling Ordinance was broken,' the officer said.
Officers from Yau Tsim district special duty squad began investigating this week after receiving a tip-off. Officers posing as players went to the private club and carried out surveillance at about 7pm on Thursday.
At about 10.30pm, officers raided the casino and arrested 32 people aged between 19 and 60. The arrested were 22 men and 10 women.
Two suspected operators - a man, 32, and woman, 41 - were arrested on suspicion of managing an unlawful gambling establishment. The other 30 were arrested for gambling in an illegal gambling establishment.
The gamblers were all middle class, the officer said. All 32 people have been released on bail of between HK$1,000 and HK$1,500 and are to report back to the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on July 2.
It was the first time Hong Kong police found an illegal gambling establishment offering Texas hold 'em. Police would seek legal advice from the Department of Justice before laying any charge, the inspector said.
Several private clubhouses, including the Hong Kong Poker House, allow members to play poker and gamble among themselves. A loophole in anti-gambling laws allows the poker as long as the clubs do not take a commission on pots.
Meanwhile, a live-in couple who lost heavily gambling in Macau, got in a fight in Sheung Wan MTR station at about noon yesterday while on the way home. Police arrested the man, 41, and his girlfriend, 39, for fighting in a public place.
They were treated for minor injuries at Queen Mary Hospital.