Rangoon (Mizzima) – The two-digit and three-digit gambling lottery is big business in Burma. It’s also illegal and as gambling bookie Myint Maung found the hard way, corruption favours the big guys, not small-time bookies.
Myint Maung was one of the lucky prisoners to be released in the government’s recent one-year commutation of prison sentences. Altogether 14,600 prisoners were released.
Myint Maung was happy to be released and recalls the tears in his wife’s eyes when she saw him, but he is bitter about a system that jailed him and led to the loss of his savings and his home.
‘I was the small-scale two-digit, three-digit gambling bookie’, he told Mizzima, and because he was a small fish, without a large income to pay people off, it was him and not the big bookies that ‘faced such a fate’.
‘My family survived with this job’, he said, noting that he had five family members to support. ‘Initially, I worked as an agent of a gambling bookie on commission. Then I had got many customers and then I became a small bookie’.
Just as honey attracts the flies, this small-time bookie gained the unwanted attention of men in uniform. ‘As my work was growing bigger and bigger, the number of policemen I had to give grease money to grew too. Even when I worked as an agent, I had to give money to at least three policemen at least three times a week’.
A rise in status resulted in increased attention. ‘When I became a bookie, the number of policemen I had to give money to and the frequency of greasing their palms increased. The policemen came to me one by one at least four times a week, offering numerous reasons for their visits’.
They did not directly ask for money. ‘They gave reasons something like, ‘Hey! We want to mend our office toilet and it will cost us about 150,000 kyat (about US$ 190). Please give us as much as you can’. They gave excuses and took money from me. They never asked for money from us directly to avoid problems’.
What he thought might be a lucrative way to make money was stifled by a corrupt system where the police ignored his illegal sale of lottery numbers in exchange for money.
‘Let me say in short, during the 10 to 15 years of my work, I couldn’t make much money because I had to give about half of my income to the police’.
Myint Maung became a scapegoat. ‘At last, they arrested a small-scale bookie like me. In fact, they should punish the police also as co-accused and conspirators’.
But the bigger operators in the illegal business avoided jail and their businesses are thriving. ‘They run their businesses as if they are running a legal business company under license and they have many employes’.
He said he earned about 1-1.5 million kyat a month when he was in business. ‘I had to give about 600,000 kyat a month to them as grease money. As for these big bookies running their businesses like big licensed companies, they could earn 50 to 100 million a month easily so they could give about 5-10 million kyat a month as grease money. So when they had to arrest someone as a scapegoat, when they were under pressure from the higher command during a special anti-gambling campaign … many small-scale bookies like me were arrested’.
Myint Maung tells Mizzima that he lost everything. ‘I had to sell my house and use this money while I was facing trial. I am heavily indebted now. Half of the money from the sale of my house went to my lawyer and staff from the trial court. The remaining half was spent on giving money to prison staff. We had to spend money everywhere in greasing the palms of the public servants. There’s a lot of difference in [how you are treated depending on] how much you spend in greasing their palms’.
It’s a hard lesson, one he recalls with bitterness and another example of corruption in Burma.