Cash-strapped clubs allowed “casinos” on their premises due to “political pressure” and the lure of money, according to officials of two clubs that were raided by police on Sunday.
The clandestine operation of such “casinos” came to light following a crackdown that began on Wednesday.
It is now apparent that almost everybody knew what was happening, yet there was little to no resistance.
“Personally, I never support such illegal and immoral endeavours but I was forced to give away the space due to political pressure,” said Lokman Hossain Bhuiyan, director in-charge of Mohammedan Sporting Club Ltd.
He further said the money they received as rent helped run the club, which is otherwise solely dependent on donations.
According to sources, the “casino” would pay an estimated Tk 20 lakh per month as rent and the cash injection helped the club carry out its day-to-day functions.
A top official of Victoria Sporting Club, wishing not to be named, also alleged that political influence played a big role in renting the club’s space for a “casino”, but he hinted that money was also a factor in the decision.
He said Dhaka South Jubo League President Ismail Hossain Samrat, who is currently holed up in his office fearing arrest, was the one who had proposed renting out space for the “casino” business.
“He is the vice-president of the club.
After he made the proposal, it was discussed at a meeting. There was opposition, but we could not take any steps against the ‘casino’ as the club was getting some Tk 30,000 to 40,000 per day [from it],” the veteran Victoria official told the Daily Star yesterday.
In regards to who knew what, no answers were forthcoming.
The Victoria Club official did not disclose who operated the “casino”.
Mohammedan Director Lokman Hossain was also reluctant to disclose the identity of the politicians who apparently pressured the clubs to allow the gambling dens.
“You also know who they are. Look at the newspapers and you will find the names,” he told this correspondent.
“I even went into hiding for a few days [because of the situation] …,” said the Mohammedan top official, adding that the “casino” at the club had a separate entry gate.
When asked if the other club directors were aware of the casino, he claimed everyone except the president knew but “we did not discuss it in the meetings” and no kind of consensus among them was reached on the matter.
“I have said before [on Wednesday] that we closed the ‘casino’ after hearing about the government stance on this illegal business. It is true that we were getting a small amount of money from them as rent and spending it to run the club because it has no other income source.”
To run a top-tier football club, as these clubs often do, at least Tk 5 crore needs to be invested.
Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Councillor AKM Mominul Haque Shaheed, who holds the president’s post of both Arambagh and Dilkusha Sporting clubs -- both of which were raided for housing gambling dens -- said the entire situation was a collective failure.
Talking to this reporter over phone from Singapore, where he is currently attending to his ailing son, he said as president of both clubs he could not deny his responsibility, but there were others to blame as well.
While he did not give names, he pointed fingers at those in positions of power, alluding to the fact that they all knew what was happening.
“As playing cards and housie at the clubs have been a common phenomenon, I really did not pay heed when the ‘casinos’ sprung up. But now who will take the responsibility for it?
“More or less everyone is responsible. As a president, councillor and a social worker I also have some responsibility, but so does the mayor, MPs, DCs, the police commissioner and intelligence departments. Everyone has errors and no one can avoid responsibility,” he said.
The revelation of “casinos” housed in such historic clubs has also become a source of disappointment for those associated with these bodies.
“I feel ashamed and insulted because of the casino issue. I was known as Tipu of Mohammedan but if I now say I once played for the famous club, the younger generation might consider me a good poker player only,” said Golam Sarwar Tipu, a mainstay in Mohammedan football team back in its heady days in the 70s.
Tipu also said he had always considered the Motijheel club as his second home, but was shocked to hear of the gambling dens.
Sources said leaders of different associate bodies of the ruling party have long been involved in running such “casinos”.
The country woke up to this underworld operation during a single crackdown by the Rab on Wednesday.
At least five clubs in Dhaka city were raided on that day and 182 people, including a Jubo League leader, were arrested. Fakirerpool Young Men’s Club and Dhaka Wanderers Club were sealed off.
Mohammedan Sporting Club, Victoria Sporting Club, Arambagh Sporting Club and Dilkusha Sporting Club in Motihjeel area were raided by police on Sunday.
Joint teams of the Detective Branch (DB) of police and police stations concerned yesterday raided Fu-Wang Club in Tejgaon Industrial area, Piyashi Bar in Moghbazar and Golden Dragon Bar in Eskaton area in the capital.
No one was, however, arrested and nothing was seized in the drives launched following information on possible gambling activities.
Earlier on Sunday night, police raided three spa centres on three floors of Navana Tower in Gulshan and arrested 19 people, including 16 women.
Police said the arrests came in the light of “illicit activities” going on at the centres.
About the drive at Fu-Wang Club, executive magistrate Abdullah al Mamun, who led the raid, said the club had the licence to run a bar. But the club was found closed as it was under maintenance.
No gambling equipment was found on the premises during the raid.
Meanwhile, Officer-in-Charge of Hatirjheel police station Abdur Rashid said they, along with DB police, raided Piyashi Bar and Golden Dragon yesterday evening to verify whether those operate any “casinos”, but found nothing illegal.