Police say gambling has become the number one problem in Malaysia. They are not talking about casinos or bookmaking, but one-arm bandits. And it seems Sabah is the state that is most worrying.
One-arm bandits or slot machines were first allowed for private clubs such as the Lake Club, Selangor Club, and so on to help them remain economically viable.
Most of these clubs ran at a loss because they more or less subsidised the members with low monthly fees and low prices for food and drinks. Many members had their meals there to avoid paying the comparatively high prices at public restaurants or hotels.
But then this meant these private clubs could not make enough money. So the government allowed them to operate one-arm bandits—but for adult members only—so that they could earn extra income and keep the membership fee and the cost of food and drinks low.
However, even with these gaming rooms, the clubs still sometimes lost money.
Then, later, the government licensed one-arm bandits for non-private clubs that masqueraded as private clubs which members of the general public, even children, patronised. They just had to pay RM1.00 at the entrance to become a “member” and then they could gamble away until they exhausted their money.
These so-called private clubs have mushroomed all over Malaysia and a certain Chinese tycoon very close to those who walk in the corridors of power owns about 70% of the machines.
These operations have an element of triad involvement in them. Operators who do not have triad protection are harassed, sometimes by the police. In fact, some close down as a result of persistent police raids.
So there appears to be some involvement by rogue policemen who collaborate with the triads in maintaining a sort of union or cartel that you need to join to be able to stay in business.
The police now consider this a serious issue because it is creating a huge social problem where youths, and Muslims at that, have become gambling addicts. And Sabah, police say, is at the top of the list of problem states.
What started with good intentions has been exploited and abused, and the government needs to seriously look into this matter and take action. If not, Malaysia is going to see a problem with gambling addicts who will need to resort to crime, just like drug addicts, to support their habit.