Of so many queries that the recent drive against the casino by the law enforcing agencies put before the citizen of the courtly, one that comes out on top and perplexes us the most is – ‘are running and playing casino legal in Bangladesh?’. Though many of us are aware of the fact that article 18(2) of Bangladesh Constitution obligates the state to take effective measures to prevent gambling, but few of us know about the existence of a law regulating gambling – the Public Gambling Act, 1867.
This law was originally passed by the British Raj back in 1867; seven years after the enactment of the Penal Code. Subsequently, it has been made applicable in Bangladesh by the ‘Bangladesh Laws (Revision and Declaration) Act, 1973’ (Act No. VIII of 1973). The very purpose of the law is to provide for the punishment of public gambling and the keeping of common gaming-houses in Bangladesh.
Though it is 152 years since the law has been passed, no amendment has been brought to the law. The punishment and fine remain the same as prescribed in the original Act. For example, it provides monetary punishment of taka 100 for gambling which, in no way, corresponds to the present context of time.
Section 1A of the Act does not define gaming but prescribes what it includes - wagering or betting excepting lottery. The ‘gaming-house’ includes any house, room, tent, or walled enclosure, or space, or vehicle, or any place whatsoever, in which any instruments of gaming are kept or used for the profit or gain of the person owning, occupying, using or keeping such house, etc.
Section 3 punishes owning or keeping, or having charge of common gaming-house with a fine not exceeding two hundred Taka, or with the imprisonment of either description for any term not exceeding three months. The persons found in common gaming-house are also subjected to the punishment of fine not exceeding one hundred taka or to the imprisonment for any term not exceeding one month. Section 5 empowers the superintendent of police and Magistrate of a District or any other person authorised by them to enter and search any such house etc. and take into custody all persons whom he or such officer finds therein, whether or not such person may be then actually gaming; and may seize all instruments of gaming, and all moneys and securities for money, and articles of value, reasonably suspected to have been used or intended to be used for the purpose of gaming.
Section 6 obliges officer searching to preserve any cards, dice, gaming-table, cloth, boards or other instruments of gaming which are found in the house etc. for the purpose of presenting them as evidence before the court as to support the allegation that such house etc. is used as a common gaming house. And on the final conviction of the accused the convicting magistrate can order the instruments seized to be destroyed. Section 9 narrates the interesting part of the statute – that it shall not be necessary, in order to convict any person of keeping a common gaming house, or of being concerned in the management of any common gaming-house, to prove that any person found playing therein at any game was playing for any money, wager or stake. The very presence of the person in such a gaming house is sufficient to award him with the conviction. This provision reflects the intention of the legislature – reducing the fascination of the common people towards gambling who go there as spectators and end up in participation.
The Act ingeniously puts gambling out of the domain of sports. In sports, by its inbred nature, teams engaged in playing have the chance of either winning or losing, depending on each teams’ capability and talent. But in case of the casino, as the statistics and reports depict – it has always been the proprietor of the casino who bags the last penny on the ‘board’ and the players remain on the losing side. The very idea of the gambling is – you win or lose. In this connection, a stricter law punishing gambling could serve the purpose of the legislators. In that respect, a thorough revision of the law is a must.
The Act has not provided any punishment for importing gambling items, taking the opportunity of which, the importers are bringing gambling instruments in the country. Moreover, the gambling equipments are not enlisted in IPO (Import Policy Order 2015-2018) as prohibited or controlled goods which leaves a justification for the custom authority for sanctioning the freight. Besides, the scanty amount of fine and slim volume of imprisonment impliedly offer a quasi-impunity to the culprit, which should also be properly addressed by bringing amendments to the Act. Like India, as it made gambling legal in her some states, Bangladesh may also think about legalising gambling in certain places upon certain conditions but the socioeconomic as well as constitutional archetype may not permit the state to give that a go.
The writer is serving as an Assistant Judge, Bangladesh Judicial Service.