It apparently took Motijheel police years to even learn about the four “casinos” operating in the very same block as the police station.
As part of the crackdown against illegal “casinos”, police simultaneously raided the four gambling dens housed inside Mohammedan Sporting Club, Arambagh Sporting Club, Dilkusha Sporting Club, and Victoria Sporting Club yesterday.
All the clubs are located within a few hundred yards of Motijheel police station. But the illegal operations within them managed to remain hidden in plain sight.
Till yesterday, that is, when the raids began at 2:30pm.
Deputy Commissioner of DMP (Motijheel Division) Anwar Hossain said that they had been unaware of any casino in the clubs, adding that they conducted the drives based on a tip-off.
Mishu Biswas, assistant police commissioner (Motijheel zone), told The Daily Star that they had heard of illegal gambling taking place on a small scale in these locations and mentioned previous raids there without going into the specifics.
He said they did not know how much they had grown over the years.
There was, however, no answer as to why the police had not known what was happening in their own backyard.
Fakirerpool Young Men’s Club and Dhaka Wanderers Club, which had been running “casinos”, are just behind the Motijheel police station, separated only by the walls of a police barrack. But they came to the nation’s attention during the crackdown against “casinos”.
About 100 feet further ahead, two more “casinos” at Arambagh Sporting Club and Dilkusha Sporting Club had been in operation round-the-clock for a number of years.
The other clubs were also on the same block, all on the doorsteps of the law enforcers.
A few years ago, these clubs had shabby walls. Now, they wear a gorgeous look with neon lights to attract visitors. These all also went unnoticed by the police.
Sources claim that the police had been silent because they were beneficiaries of the “casinos”.
Locals said entry to the locations was prohibited for ordinary people, but many claimed they had often seen policemen entering clubs.
Moreover, they said sometimes the clubs would be so crowded with people, many would have to stand in lines outside. There were also frequent fights breaking out and the clubs had become a source of nuisance for many years.
All this had also gone unnoticed by the police stationed just metres away.
The law enforcers, however, were roused from their years-long slumber following Wednesday’s raid by Rab on five “casinos” in the city.
During yesterday’s drive in Mohammedan Sporting Club, police seized a salary sheet from June of 13 Nepali workers from Mohammedan Sporting Club, showing salaries of between $600-1000. They also recovered 11 walkie talkies, knives, and liquor.
Nine gambling tables, gambling equipment, hookahs, playing cards, and Tk one lakh in cash were seized from Victoria Sporting Club.
Several gambling tables, playing cards and bottles of wine were also found in Arambagh Krira Sangha and Dilkusha Sporting Club.
Police locked these four clubs after concluding the drives.
Visiting the spot, this correspondent saw a sign on the wall saying, “No Discuss, No Bargain” and another which said “No Losing, No Conveyance”. A poker table had a sign which stated the bet limit to be Tk 1,50,000. A book written by a top AL leader was also found there.
Common features of all four “casinos” were glittering interiors, posters of female models on walls, all sorts of gambling equipment such as poker and roulette tables and slot machines, along with different kinds of liquors.
Meanwhile, 15 men were detained from Bangladesh Chalachitra Club Limited in Sayem Tower in the capital’s Bijoy Nagar around 10:30pm yesterday.
They were detained during the on-going drive against illegal gambling. Police also recovered Tk 12,000 and playing cards from the spot.
Though police yesterday did not disclose who were running those casinos, a list prepared by the crime division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police shows that six such “casinos” in “Motijheel Club Para” area were run and controlled by some top leaders of the ruling Awami League’s youth front Jubo League and other associate bodies.
According to the list, Swechhasebok League President Molla Md Abu Kausar runs the Dhaka Wanderers Club, while Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Councillor AKM Mominul Haque Sayeed ran Arambagh Sporting Club, Dilkusha Sporting Club, and Mohammedan Sporting Club.
Sayeed is also the general secretary of the Bangladesh Hockey Federation.
Jubo League leaders Ismail Chowdhury Samrat run Victoria Club while its Dhaka South Organising Secretary Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan run Fakirerpool Young Men’s Club.
Sources said leaders of different associate bodies of the party in power have long been involved in this. After the Awami League came to power in 2014, some leaders of its associate bodies started running the “casinos”, they added.
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 were arrested. Fakirerpool Young Men’s Club and Dhaka Wanderers Club were sealed off. Jubo League leader Khalid was arrested for operating the gambling den at the club.
Media reports say that during remand, he named some top police officials as the beneficiaries of the “casinos”.
Sources said Samrat and Khaled took control of these clubs after the “one-sided” election in 2014 and started running the “casinos”. The casinos saw all sorts of visitors -- policemen, politicians, businessmen, journalists, and other service holders, according to locals and sports organisers.
Such “casinos” also mushroomed in other parts of the capital over the years. Law enforcers say at least 50 “casinos” may still be operating in the capital.
Bangladesh Hockey Federation defended its General Secretary AKM Mominul Haque Sayeed as several media reported that he had gone into hiding. In a press release on Saturday, the federation said that Sayeed went to Singapore with the under-19 women’s hockey team for the Women’s Junior AHF Cup 2019, but stayed back as his son had fallen ill and was admitted to a hospital in Singapore.
The Daily Star tried to contact him over Whatsapp, but he could not be reached. It also called Lokman Hossain Bhuiyan, director (in-chanrge) of Mohamedan Sporting Club and Mazharul Islam Tuhin, general secretary of Victoria Sporting Club over phone for their comments but their phones were found switched off.
Meanwhile, AL insiders say Swechhasebok League President Molla Md Abu Kausar is now in the United States.
Samrat could also not be reached over phone.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal yesterday said that casino operation was illegal in Bangladesh and the government would not allow such activities, adding, “Drive against illegal casino operation is being taken on the prime minister’s directives.”