A temporary casino operating in an established hotel in Pattaya, a city in Thailand’s Chon Buri province, became the target of authorities this week. It was operating without a license and, when Thai police moved in to dismantle it, they arrested over 80 foreigners.
Thai law enforcement officials detained 83 Indian nationals, along with four people from Myanmar and another six locals. Among those apprehended in the pre-dawn operation on Monday, according to the police, was Chikkoti Praveen, a well-known figure and junket operator in India’s gaming industry.
Despite allegedly having permission from the hotel to use the space, no hotel employees ever entered the makeshift gambling hall. The casino, which reportedly live-streamed the activity to India, handled hundreds of thousands of dollars prior to the bust, according to media sources.
The police were tipped off by a “concerned citizen” who reported the illicit activities taking place in the hotel. Kampol Leelapraphaporn, the head of the local police force, stated that officers confiscated various items, including baccarat and blackjack tables, playing cards and chips, and a large amount of Indian rupees.
Media outlet Times of India reported that among the suspects are several politicians. They and the others are now under investigation for potentially being involved in the operation.
All of the gaming equipment allegedly came from India and its arrival, as well as the illegal operation, may have had support from the government. Thai police are looking into a rumor that government officials knowingly allowed the casino to operate in exchange for a bribe of THB2 million (US$58,740).
It was apparently a very well-organized operation. Indian gamblers were able to purchase an all-inclusive package for THB50,000 (US$1,460) to visit the casino, which was run by a Thai local. The price included transportation, meals and accommodations, but not gambling money.
As the investigation continues, the primary suspects remain in custody while some gamblers have been released. Because gambling is still illegal in Thailand, except through strictly-controlled options, the penalty could be two years in prison and fines of as much as THB20,000 (US$587).
The only legal gambling currently offered includes state-run lotteries and horse race betting. There’s an effort underway to expand the country’s gambling industry, but progress is slow.
Junket Operator Was Ambushed
Praveen has helped put together gambling trips to Malaysia, Nepal and other countries. He is also a familiar face in Bollywood circles because of his high-profile lifestyle.
Despite his background, Praveen denies any involvement in the casino, claiming that he had received an invitation to participate in a four-day poker event. Only 15 minutes after his arrival, the raid began.
That has led the gambling entrepreneur to claim that he was set up by competitors looking to take him out of the picture. For now, Thai police released him and his entourage as the investigation continues.
Praveen has run into legal trouble before because of his activity, which he regularly flaunts on social media. A year ago, police raided his house after a gambling trip and accused him of money laundering.
In 2007, he was arrested for allegedly organizing a makeshift casino in the Indian city of Hyderabad in Telangana. Praveen will now have to convince Thai authorities that he had no involvement in this temporary casino.
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