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The gambling rules in Thailand are fairly severe. Thai players are permitted to wager on the national lottery and horse races, but all other kinds of gambling are prohibited.
However, it is no secret that despite the ban, there is a massive underground gambling industry in Thailand.
A prosperous shadow economy
A shadow economy worth billions of dollars a year is formed by illegal casinos, internet betting shops, underground lotteries, and pop-up bookmakers that accept wagers on everything from cockfighting to Muay Thai.
Since the start of the World Cup, police have arrested 10,644 gamblers, including about 9,000 who bet on football matches, according to a ThaiPBS report.
Just last week, the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) police launched an operation against a significant online gambling network that included 13 locations in Bangkok and the northern province of Chiang Rai. During this operation, five people were detained and valuables, cash, and bank books were seized.
Seven expensive cars, 42 pricey watches, 45 designer purses, collectible dolls, three million baht in cash, and 166 bank books are among the things seized.
According to Thanakorn Komkris, an anti-gambling campaigner, the COVID-19 pandemic and technology have made gambling simpler than ever, leading people who are short on money to turn to illegal websites that have popped up all around Southeast Asia.
Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok’s Center for Gambling Studies has calculated that just this year, these gambling sites may have brought in up to 700,000 new gamblers.
“More than one million Thais identify as pathological gamblers,” said Thanakorn to an Al Jazzera reporter
Gambling with Thailand’s future?
Some lawmakers have proposed modifying the 1935 Gambling Act to permit legal casinos in light of the money flowing through these websites and the expansion of gambling venues in neighboring Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.
Casinos in the border town of Poipet, Cambodia, are often staffed by Thai nationals and are always full of Thai patrons.
Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore, Thailand’s neighbors, have all legalized gambling and built casino complexes to attract tourists and boost their economies. However, Thailand has maintained its 1935 Gambling Act, which prohibits all forms of cash betting aside from the state lottery and horse races at state-licensed racetracks.
Proposals to legalise casinos were discussed in parliament in late June, and a study from a panel established by the House of Representatives may lead to the legislation required to make “entertainment complexes,” another name for casinos, a reality.
The Casino Committee of Thailand had pointed out that it is feasible to have five casino resorts located across the country. The locations suggested were Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai in the north, Pattaya City in the east, Phuket, Phang-nga or Krabi in the south, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani or Khon Kaen in the northeast, and Greater Bangkok.
Thailand might profit from adopting the trend of high-end integrated resorts in Asia, which normally generate significant income from meetings and events. “At least $11 billion in additional tax revenue would be collected annually once several facilities are operating,” said Pichet Chuamuangphan, a vice-chairman of the panel.
Thai officials, meanwhile, have long contended that gambling violates the precepts of Buddhism, the country’s dominant religion, and fosters gambling addiction as well as other societal evils.