By Soe Yar Zar Tun
When we arrive at the Border Guard Force checkpoint, security guards look us up and down, then ask if we are coming to the casino. It’s 8pm. We nod and are allowed in.
The 24-hour 999 casino is located on the bank of Kayin State’s Thaung Yin river that separates Myanmar and Thailand, dividing Myawady town from Tak province.
Thais come in droves, avoiding gambling laws in their own country. The owner himself is a Thai tycoon. Only Thai baht are accepted, though Myanmar kyat can be exchanged.
In the compound are rows of cars, restaurants, convenience stores and lounges. Inside the main gaming area, well-dressed gamblers focus intently as they try their luck.
Food and drink flow freely, while CCTV cameras keep an eye out for scammers. A blacklist pinned to the wall shows the names of pickpockets, phone thieves and mere freeloaders.
999 is not taxed or regulated. You don’t even need even need an ID to get in. All you need is money. The venue is more crowded at night and a ferry brings people over the river from Thailand. Like any casino in the world, there seems to be a lot of losing and little winning. I decided to try my luck.
At about 9pm I drank a complimentary orange juice and entered a game in which players guess what animal will appear on a card, either a tiger or a dragon. It costs 20 baht (a little less than $1) to play, which I did twice.
I lost both times.
The freewheeling nature of the casino may not last long.
Thant Zin Aung, an MP in Kayin State, confirmed reports of violence around the place. He wants to get rid of casinos like this one, but although he has submitted a proposal to the state parliament, no action has been taken yet.
If he can’t get rid of them, he suggests at least taxing them. Colonel Saw Chit Thu from the Border Guard Force agreed, saying taxes should be levied to help with state coffers.
“I want casino business to be official in Myawady to generate state revenue,” he said, adding an official permit system could be introduced too.
But there’s a wrinkle. The casino in Myawady is a joint-business between the BGF and the Thai owner.
“We own the land and building that this casino resort is on, and the Thai businessperson put in the equipment and other facilities,” he said.
Right now there is a plan to set up a hotel near the casino. A source familiar with the matter said the authorities will only allow the casinos if hotels are built.
Casinos of this sort are not limited to Kayin State. In Kachin and Shan states they exist too, with Chinese players making up the bulk of clientele.
This story was originally published by Myanmar Now on September 5, 2017.