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Merrill Banker Faces Poker Charges in Hong Kong

A Merrill Lynch banker and others working in the financial industry have been prosecuted for taking part in an underground Texas hold 'em poker game in the southern Chinese financial center Hong Kong.

New Zealand national Michael Tan Boon Suan and seven others were charged with gambling in a gaming establishment, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday. If this is their first offense, they face a maximum penalty of three months in jail and a fine of 10,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,300).

The eight defendants did not enter pleas in a court appearance Tuesday and were all freed on bail of HK$1,000 ($130) each. Their cases were adjourned to August and September.

While neighboring Macau is known as the Las Vegas of Asia, casinos are illegal in Hong Kong, where the only legal forms of gambling are betting on horse races and football matches and a numbers lottery. All three are operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Tan and the other alleged gamblers were arrested at an illegal Texas hold 'em card game in the Central financial district on March 13, Hong Kong police said in a statement faxed to the AP on Wednesday. Officers seized about HK$153,000 ($20,000) in cash and chips worth about HK$3.7 million ($480,000).

The 42-year-old banker is a licensed securities trader and corporate finance adviser for Merrill Lynch, according to records posted on the website of Hong Kong's Securities and Futures Commission. Among the other defendants are another banker, two investment consultants, two company directors, a businessman and a bank teller, according to the court documents.

Two Hong Kong women and two Nepalese women - all in their 20s - were charged with either operating or managing the venue where the illegal game took place.

Mark Tsang, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for Merrill Lynch, said he had no comment.

By Min Lee

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