A dart game during the recent Trashigang tshechu

Gambling during  tshechu, an open secret

The aftermath of the four-day tshechu in Trashigang has left the archery range messy and disorganised.

Stall owners are engaged in dismantling their stalls and collecting the remaining goods that have remained unsold.

There are some people, who while checking if police personnel are around, conduct a game of dice at the far end of the archery range.

Although illegal, the game is conducted in the open space. Cash changes hands quickly and the dice keeps rolling.

Crumbled notes of Nu 1,000 and Nu 500 and occasionally Nu 100 and Nu 50 fly in from different directions onto the large colourful board. Unusually large sizes of dice (six or seven) are rolled from a bucket that is barely holding its shape with the help of some cello tapes.

“Pana teen, janday dho,” shouts the person who rolls the dice from the bucket.

One of the organisers is quick enough to pick up all the money from the table. No one has won the round and the money goes to the organisers.

The next few rounds see the players take at least double of what they bet. People who had put in Nu 2,000 are given Nu 6,000 in return. This is multiplied by at least 15 people playing on the table.

It is a heavy blow to the organisers who then decide to change the person that rolls the dice. There is no major winning on either side but the game continues.

There are arguments over the need to again change the dice roller. The organisers comply fearing the players might leave the table. They try to calm the crowd from shouting, occasionally providing doma on the house.

There are few people from the organisers’ group keeping a watchful eye around. “Let us know if you see any police personnel around,” instructs one of the organisers.

Save for the dart game, card and dice games are not allowed at the tshechu stalls. However, Kuensel learnt that though illegal, these games were conducted every year during tshechus across the country.

Kuensel’s request to photograph the game was denied.

One of the organisers who requested anonymity said they are organising the game to recover from the loss they suffered over the last four days from dart game.

“We lost almost Nu 400,000 in the dice game. We just want to recover our lost money,” he said.

According to a source Kuensel spoke to, gambling in the form of dice games happen across the country especially during tshechus. “While some places allow us to operate openly, places like Trashigang do not allow it,” he said. “Even if it’s not allowed in the open, it is played in hotels, forests and other places wherever feasible.”

He said that it is the demand from the public (people who are interested in the game) that organisers like him organise the game. “There are people who come to us requesting us to organise the game.”

He added that in occasions like Haa and Dewathang ‘mela’, dice games are accepted openly.

“It is confusing because the rule differs from one place to another. If you want to ban the game, ban it for good,” he said. “Because there is an irregularity in the rule in different places, it creates more problem.”

If played in excess, he said the dart game is also a form of gambling. “You bet money in that game too. How is it different from a cards game or a dice roll?”

It was learnt that Trashigang police upon receiving information on illegal gambling raided two hotels on the first and second day of the tshechu. However, on reaching the location, police didn’t find any evidence of gambling.

Police said that without any proof, the two groups were released with a caution not to indulge in any sort of gambling.

It was also learnt that except for occasions like tshechu, there are not many gambling cases in the dzongkhag.

Section 393 of the Penal Code of Bhutan states that, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of gambling, if the defendant stakes or wagers something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the defendant’s control or influence upon an agreement or understanding that the defendant will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

The offence of gambling is graded a petty misdemeanor. Section 395 states that an authorised lottery is not considered gambling.

Meanwhile, the source told Kuensel that on an average, heavy players indulging in such games bet a minimum of Nu 100,000 a day.

“If you win, you make double, sometimes three times of your investment,” he said, adding that people play to win in the beginning but slowly land up playing to recover their losses. “Luck plays a major part. It is more like an addiction.”

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang

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