The remote Wa State in Myanmar, which shares 82 miles (133 km) of frontier with China, once offered Chinese VIPs an out of the way place to gamble large, and still may. Reuters reports that casinos, where the rich used to enjoy perks and privileges, are now populated by less affluent locals, in a region where farmers may only earn the equivalent of $115 per year. So the bets, with table limits up to $16,000 are now in the ten cent range. The outlet reports that some 1,000 employees of the casino serve the peasant gamblers, while a berkeley.edu essay from June 2016, states that the workers make about $300 per month.
According to the report, now hundreds of low betting players crowd an opulently appointed three-story casino tucked away in the hills, away from the cities that casinos were driven out of in a 2003 Chinese purge. The VIP’s in private lounges are nowhere to be seen.
Before Beijing’s latest crackdown on graft and corruption, which translates in numbers to VIP players – China, who provides weapons and military advisers to the Wa Army, sent a small contingent of troops to shut down casinos in the city of Mong La. This, reportedly in response to the daughter of a high-ranking official losing millions of yuan at the casinos.
Local authorities responded by setting up a new gambling zone in Wang Hsieo village, about 10 miles (16 km) away.
A November article on the BBC relates that the Wa State is so secretive and remote that you won’t find it on Google Maps, and if you ask for a passport you will be denied. The Sea-Globe reported in 2014 that at the time, many Chinese gamblers weren’t too concerned with the inconvenience of Chinese gambling bans – they simply crossed into Mong La illegally, walking across the porous border with no documents. The most recent report would suggest that practice has changed, at least for the whales that feed the VIP tables in private lounges.
The Southeast Asia Globe Magazine (sea-globe.com) went into more depth about the state of affairs just a little over two years ago. Chinese sex workers were plying their trade openly and the market was full of endangered wildlife meat and other parts for sale. Restaurants were displaying endangered animals in cages, ready to be slaughtered and cooked to order while the illegal trade in ivory, tiger and leopard skins flourished. Mong La is reportedly one of Southeast Asia’s largest open wildlife markets.
However, the Daily Beast reported in 2014 that most of the items are probably fake. Quoting a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine the DB reported, “The tiger paws are actually from large dogs, with claws attached to them. The pelts are dyed dog furs. The ivory is just bone from a farm animal, most likely an ox. The rest is probably plastic,” he told the reporter. “The only thing that is real here is probably the set of deer antlers, maybe some of the pangolin scales. Those aren’t too difficult to come by.”
Inexplicably, in November the BBC and other media outlets were invited to the Wa State, where the denizens were once known to the British as “Wild Wa” as they were prolific head hunters in earlier times.
The Wa state became autonomous when rebels there came to an agreement with the Myanmar government in 1989. The region went into opium production for about ten years, then began eradication efforts which seem to have been successful. Now Chinese underworld operators reportedly manufacture “yaba”, methamphetamine pills for export. The government seized two tons of pills in 2016, according to the BBC report.
As to the actual fate of more of the shady casinos in the jungle areas where the Wa State meets China, that is unclear.
This article has been updated to remove reference to Chinese state-owned news sources and to cite Reuters in the first paragraph.