Sealing of two illegal casinos by the Rapid Action Battalion in the sports hub of Motijheel in the capital, popularly known as Club Para (club zone), on Wednesday has become the most talked-about issue in the country’s sporting arena.
The RAB raided Fakirerpool Youngmen’s Club and Dhaka Wanderers to uncover the casinos, prompting other clubs including Mohammedan Sporting Club, Victoria Sporting Club, Arambagh Krira Sangha and Dilkusha Sporting Club to halt their similar operations immediately.
They were among the 11 sporting clubs that shifted to the area lying between the Culvert Road and the Gazi Golam Dastagir Road in 1988 after the National Sports Council leased out the land, owned by the housing ministry, to them so that they could properly run their sporting activities.
But, over the years the clubs moved away from their normal role and got involved in gambling business on the pretext of raising fund before renting out their spaces to run illegal casinos that were eventually exposed by a RAB raid on Wednesday night.
Among the clubs housed in the zone, only Mohammedan currently take part in the top-flight Dhaka Premier League cricket while it (Mohammedan) and Arambagh KS play in the Bangladesh Premier League football.
Fakirerpool Youngmen’s Club, which is now in the eyes of a storm, got an opportunity to play in Bangladesh Premier League football after they became champion in Bangladesh Championship League in 2016.
But the club spurned the opportunity citing lack of fund, though it ran an illegal casino on its premises.
Seven clubs still participate in Premier Division Hockey, but apart from Dhaka Mariners and Mohammedan, none spends any significant amount of money on the sport.
Club organisers said that they had to allow casinos on their premises under pressure from politicians, not out of greed, though they admitted that the gambling operations (casinos) benefited them financially.
Mohammedan Sporting Club director in-charge Lokman Hossain Bhuiyan claimed that they only rented out their facility for a casino but had no involvement in running the business.
’As far as I know, casino is illegal in this country. It’s completely illegal. But we were forced to leave club space for the casino. We did not give it willingly,’ he said.
‘It’s natural that we benefited from the casino [on our premises]. But it was not our intention. We ran the club in the past without it [casino]. It had no relation with sports. We just got rent from the casino.’
Lokman, however, said that apart from the gambling business their only other source of income was donations to run the club, which was not sufficient.
‘The money that we get from the gambling or casino operation is not very big. For a club like Mohammedan we have daily expenses of Taka 30 to 35 thousand. So we have to rely mostly on donations,’ said Lokman.
Lokman, who is also a director of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, claimed that he did not know the casino men in his club personally.
‘I even did not meet anyone of the casino. They sent us money through different people at different times,’ he added.
Victoria Sporting Club was the first club to have allegedly first allowed a casino inside its facility at a time when it was losing its sporting glory.
Victoria was the Dhaka Premier Cricket League champions not in a very distant past but the club hit the headline in 2016-17 when it failed to pay the players and was relegated to First Division League.
Victoria slid further down in 2017-18 when it finished 19th in the First Division League cricket and was relegated to Second Division League, though it continued to make money from its illegal casino business.
Victoria Club secretary Mazharul Islam Tuhin, who is also the general secretary of Bangladesh Boxing Federation, welcomed the crackdown on illegal gambling operations saying that they had to allow it as there were not many sponsors for the club.
‘If clubs get enough sponsorship, no one will do this,’ he further said. Tuhin, too, claimed that he did not know the persons who ran the casino in their club.
‘I did never meet those who ran the casino. We just received the rent from it,’ he added.
A top official of Dilkusha SC, who requested not to be identified, said that they were helpless in the face of political pressure.
‘Of course there are other ways of income. We could have managed well without the income from the casino,’ he said.
‘[But] nobody had the courage to stop this. We, the sports-loving people, were helpless before them. It was an open secret,’ he added.
Sahabuddin, a former player and a member of Dhaka Wanderers, viewed that those who took money from the illegal income should be brought to book.
‘The sports area should be only for sports. We sportspeople always hated gambling. We saw it as a nasty business,’ he offered.
Md Ramjan, a member of Wari Club and also the secretary of Bangladesh Boys Club, said that it was not the clubs but only a handful of individuals, who benefited from the casinos.
‘There are a few specific beneficiaries. If a club gets one thousand taka they get 10 thousand. A club just rents out its space,’ he said.
Wari Club earns on an average Taka 30 thousand a week in housie rental, he informed.
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