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Almost every form of gambling is illegal in Thailand and has been since 1935. But while the neon flashing world of online gambling was still the stuff of science fiction in the prelude to World War Two – when Thailand’s gambling laws were made – the remote sector is still banned in the country.
National lotteries and specifically licensed horse racing events are the only two forms of gambling that are legally available to Thai locals and tourists visiting the country.
Police in Thailand are tasked with monitoring illegal gambling. Raids regularly take place that result in fines and or jail time for people found to be hosting or playing in illegal gambling events.
Does banning gambling work?
Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of failed attempts to either ban or prohibit the use of certain products or activities.
In the United States, prohibition was a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages during the 1920s and 30s.
Although prohibition was brought in to reduce the social problems related to drinking alcohol, it actually heightened crime levels. With the production of alcohol illegalised, drinkers turned to unregulated and often unsafe producers.
Alcohol became the domain of organised crime, and deaths associated with the substance actually increased during the period of prohibition.
In a similar way, banning most forms of gambling in Thailand has led to an increase in serious social problems associated to the activity. With gambling left unregulated, illegal games are open to corruption, intimidation and, in some cases, violence at the hands of criminal gangs.
The dangers of Illegal gambling
In a fully licensed casino, there are checks and balances to ensure that, while the casino always has the edge over the consumer, the games are fair. Regulatory bodies frequently inspect casinos and gambling establishments to ensure that the needs of the players are being looked after.
In Thailand, no such authority exists for casino games, leaving fairness and equality up to the organisers of these illegal events. Below are just three common ways in which illegal gambling operators in Thailand scam, defraud or cheat their customers:
The famous poker player Phil Ivey achieved worldwide notoriety in 2017 when he lost a Supreme Court hearing in the UK over Crockford Club casino’s decision to withhold £7.7 million in winnings from the star.
The casino alleged that Ivey had partaken in edge sorting, a technique in which players gain an unfair advantage through exploiting a subtle and unintentional difference on the backs of the cards being dealt. To find out more about it and how it works, head to 888 Casino where mathematician Eliot Jacobson explains in detail what edge sorting is.
In Thailand, specifically in regards to poker and blackjack, players are often planted at tables with the sole intention of edge sorting. These individuals will encourage other players to bet heavily, before using edge sorting to either scoop the winnings for themselves or assist the house in winning.
Roulette is one of the most popular casino games worldwide, but unfortunately, it’s also one of the easiest games to manipulate. Essentially, players bet on which number a small ball will land after the roulette wheel has been spun.
Often these balls are metal, something which plays right into the hands of unscrupulous illegal gambling operators. One of the most common methods to defraud players is to use a magnet to ensure that the ball does not land on a winning bet.
This method was commonplace in Las Vegas during the early years of casino gambling, when many venues were operated by criminal gangs as a money laundering front.
Rigged Slots – Slot machines are the beating heart of any successful casino, accounting for the lion’s share of revenues both in land-based establishments and online. As a result of the ban on gambling in Thailand, slots are harder to access than other casino games due to their size.
Some unlicensed venues do, however, have slots available for their customers, and use them as a vehicle to make quick, easy money. Licensed slot machines must advertise their return to player (RTP) percentage.
This is a figure that allows players to see how much money they would be likely to win back, on average, every time they bet. With no regulatory body, illegal gambling venues will offer deliberately misleading RTP’s to trick people into spending more money.
Policing illegal gambling
Every couple of months in Thailand, there is an influx of stories in the news about police crackdowns on illegal gambling. Often, police will raid underground betting parlours after spending weeks or months gathering intelligence on providers or players.
During these crackdowns, police tend to focus their interests on the providers of the gambling infrastructure, rather than the players themselves. Individuals who are found illegally gambling are usually issued with an arbitrary fine of 1,000 baht. Providers are subject to heavier fines and are often sentenced to around a year in jail time.
The lead-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup saw one of the biggest crackdowns on illegal gambling in the history of the country. Over 1,000 people were arrested by the authorities, with the majority being sports bookmakers. However, a handful of individual punters were also arrested.
Policing online gambling
As most forms of gambling in Thailand are illegal, it would be foolish to attempt to play. Not only as you run the risk of prosecution, but also to avoid falling foul to an immoral bookmaker or casino operator.
However, if you are hell-bent on placing a bet in Thailand, the safest way to do so is to gamble online with an overseas company. Police investigations into individual online gamblers are relatively unheard of.
But your part-time passion for spinning the wheels or playing poker is most likely not worth a fine and possible jail time.
The only way you will fall foul of the law if you gamble online in Thailand is by telling people who could pass the information onto the police. However, your safest option is to not gamble at all, unless on the national lottery or state-licensed horse racing events.
Whether or not Thailand will revise its gambling laws in the near future is unclear. But as gambling continues to rise in the country, its people may need to look for safer alternatives.