Gambling has silently plagued our society for a long time now. Yet, we are not able to do much in solving this menace. From a logical perspective, gambling is at the centre of bigger social issues related to drugs and youth problems. It is associated with mental health problems, loss of jobs, severe debts, depression, mood disorders, and anti-social personality.
The subject had received attention from the Third Druk Gyalpo in the late sixties, who issued a decree prohibiting gambling in the country. Further, the National Assembly (NA) had discussed the issue in eight of its sessions since 1967. In 1977, the NA passed a resolution banning gambling completely in the country. The home ministry also had occasionally issued circulars since 1999 and the NA further resolved not to permit gambling in 2006.
However, with all the past efforts and legal provisions in the Penal Code of Bhutan, gambling, especially high stake card games, persisted over the years tearing families apart by the day and gamblers themselves falling victims to merciless “loan sharks”, who take advantage of the situations of compulsive gamblers.
The Anti-Money Laundering bill is being tabled during the current session of the NA, which though little late, is vital to protect and save families in future.
Some study estimate that for every problem gambler at least 10 other family members, friends and colleagues are also directly affected. While many family relationships fail, the children are the victims with negative environment at home or absence of proper parental guidance and care.
The recent move of the Royal Bhutan Police that arrested 15 for alleged gambling is welcome. Yet it is not going to be an easy task knowing the loopholes and connections in our society. Looking at the past practices, the issue may altogether be brushed under the carpet, only to surface again. There are also stories of failed raids due to prior information received by the gamblers. Some say gambling is rampant in the homes of senior and influential people. In these circles, gambling is not even considered a bad thing or illegal.
If gambling is illegal, then the laws must be applied and implemented without exceptions of status. But if the lawmakers or the law enforcers themselves are occasionally in pursuit of “maal”, “marriage”, and “carriage”, then our fight against gambling is meaningless.
The irony is we accept, celebrate, and even praise the winning gamblers but discard and criminalise the losers.