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by James Sullivan

2 July 2010


Is it worth the effort?

Except for the government-sponsored public lottery and two horse-racing tracks in Bangkok, gambling is illegal in Thailand – punishable by a jail term of up to one year and a fine of 1,000 baht. However, the practice remains widespread.

Everyone’s doing it … bankers, academics, foreigners, students, as well as groups of people openly on the street and over the Internet. Some estimates place at least 70 percent of Thai adults as regular gamblers. The industry annually generates hundreds of billions of baht in exchanged revenue within the country’s borders.

Interest in ‘having a flutter’ on World Cup football matches first spawned in 1998 and now represents a significant portion of this hidden economy. The Thai Chamber of Commerce estimates that gambling transactions in the country will involve as much as 37 billion baht during the FIFA World Cup 2010 tournament being held in South Africa from June 11 to July 11.

Some argue that gambling is unstoppable; efforts to resist amount to a waste and distraction of government resources. Legal casinos are found just across Thailand’s border in Cambodia, Burma, and some points in Laos. Both foreign and Thai interest-groups are pressuring the current government. If gambling was legalized, the government could retain profits and taxes rather than underground bookies. (Note that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other ex-government officials were themselves accused of skimming from the National Lottery after the 2006 military coup).

Those opposing legalization argue that too many negative aspects are directly associated with gambling, such as addiction leading to often unrecoverable personal losses; especially for those in lower-income brackets. Furthermore, gambling goes directly against the precepts of Buddhism.  


The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) estimates that 80 percent of the Thai population was involved in gambling during the 2006 World Cup. And during ‘Euro 2008’ more than 1,000 people were arrested in Thailand for gambling on football matches, with nearly one million baht seized.

This tournament season the MICT is targeting online gambling transactions, having blocked 246 betting-websites on local and international servers just prior to the start of the matches. TOT, a state agency under the Ministry, is red-flagging telephone numbers for unusually heavy-use during the tournament in attempt to monitor and determine whether these numbers are involved in illicit gambling.

Bangkok Metropolitan Police

Thai police have intensified a clampdown on football betting nationwide. Thailand’s Metropolitan Police Bureau announced a significant number of arrests in the first few days of the tournament. During the opening match between South Africa and Mexico, Bangkok police arrested 28 gamblers; and in the following days more than 250 people citywide – including bookmakers and debt collectors – seizing 83,00 baht in cash and 430,000 baht worth of betting slips.  


Specifically prompted by the World Cup season, Kasikorn and Krung Thai banks banned employees from illegal betting, both during work and off-hours. Employees discovered gambling face criminal charges and immediate dismissal. Supervisors are instructed to closely monitor personnel.

Furthermore, the National Buddhist Office in Bangkok just amended the punishment delivered to monks involved in gambling. According to Dharma rule the previous punishment was only a warning. However, in a recent ‘Great Samana Consideration’ meeting, elders agreed to terminate the monk-status of those caught gambling. All temples have been ordered to strictly enforce the new rule.


World Cup gambling among youths in Thailand is increasing. Schools and universities have been urged to monitor students, who may quickly run into financial trouble beginning only with bets as little as 20-50 baht at a time, during the tournament.  

According to police, 25 percent more young people betted on the World Cup in 2006 compared to 2002. One female university student reportedly lost 40,000 baht and couldn’t go to class, fearing collectors who pressured her to enter the sex trade to pay off her debt.
With the start of this year’s World Cup, seven teenagers in Nakhon Ratchasima that were arrested for motorcycle theft admitted to police they wanted the money for betting on tournament games.
Legalized or not, gambling is typically not a win-win situation. These odds are what keep casinos thriving in places like Las Vegas. Bank employees and monks should be able to responsibly care for their own finances. Teenagers and university students, however, are more susceptible to the addictions of gambling. The current drive by Thai police and government plays a beneficial civil-service in highlighting the traps that young people fall into by recklessly gambling. Educating the country’s youth may result in positive consequences that are not immediately apparent, but is surely a safe-bet in the long term.

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