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Who Benefits from Thailand’s Strict Gambling Laws?

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Gambling laws vary greatly across the world. In some countries it’s completely legal – in the UK, for example, the market is open yet heavily regulated. Meanwhile in the US, it’s a little more complex – with different states going their own ways.

But one country at the other extreme is Thailand, where almost every kind of gambling is against the law. The only exceptions are horse racing and the lottery. Horse racing mainly takes place in Bangkok and is favoured by high society, and the state-run lottery takes place twice a month on the 1st and the 16th.  So anyone expecting to find a casino, or even an amusement arcade with slots in it, will certainly be disappointed.

Let’s take a look at what this means for gamers in Thailand, and whether the ban is doing more harm than good.

History of Thailand’s Gambling Ban

The current extreme gambling laws have been in place ever since the Gambling Act 2478 (BE) was imposed back in 1935. This consists of no less than 46 different regulations and a Royal Decree forbidding the vast majority of forms of gambling.

As if this wasn’t enough, there are other laws in place too – perhaps the most extreme of which even forbids the printing and production of playing cards of any kind. Naturally, this also forbids owning and playing with them too, even if they have been manufactured outside of Thailand.

Naturally, these strict laws also apply to online gambling – although it’s not specifically stated, having been some decades off being invented back in 1935.

How the ban is having an adverse effect

If we accept that the kinds of laws concerning betting in Thailand were put in place to prevent people from doing it, they can only be judged to have failed.

As most people know, illegal betting is one of the country’s worst-kept secrets, with anywhere between 60% and 70% of the population taking part in it regularly either online, in private casino clubs or through illegal bookmakers.

Of special interest for many Thai people is sports betting, primarily on football. Going back to the 2014 World Cup, it was estimated that the nation wagered nearly ฿43 billion on games both through underground bookmakers and online.So when the 2018 World Cup came around, the Thai police were ready for it and were reported to have made around 6,500 arrests in the first two weeks of the tournament along with confiscating฿28 million in cash in the process.

In general, the police are more interested in cracking down on those who run the gambling rings rather that the gamblers themselves. So they do tend to turn a blind eye, especially when the stakes involved are relatively low – although the official line is that anyone caught will be subject to a ฿1,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

All this pressure from the force of law has had two main effects:

 Illegal gambling is on the rise in Thailand

A great deal of the population now chooses to gamble online, reasonably safe in the knowledge that they won’t be discovered. Then there’s the cost of policing gambling and the criminal activity it can lead to.

  • Gambling tourism heading elsewhere. Casino players have started to head over the border into Laos and Cambodia where they can play without the fear of prosecution hanging over them – resulting in potentially billions in lost public revenue.

Learning from the UK gambling industry

One only has to look at how successful Macau has become on the back of its casino industry to see the benefits. However, a better example exists in the UK, where all types of gambling are legal – but fall under strict regulations set by the Gambling Commission. These rules primarily relate to:

  • Money laundering – obliging casinos to check their players’ identities and sources of funds
  • Underage gambling – making sure gambling operators have procedures in place to verify player ages
  • Technical standards – holding companies to account when developing gaming machines

The UK’s gambling revenue now exceeds £15 billion (฿563 billion) – a considerable proportion of which is paid to the government in taxes. This money is, in turn, invested in vital public services such as transport, schools and hospitals.

By far the biggest single sector in UK gambling is online – and the people have really embraced it over the last two decades.Not only has it proved to be a fun and convenient way to play, it’s also introduced a new selection of games – from engaging slots, to immersive roulette and blackjack. All of these games can be played from the player’s own home, or while they’re on the move, through their mobile device.

Poker is one of the most widely played casino games in the UK, and video poker is a popular form. Based on five-card draw poker, video poker is played on a computerized console – similar to a slot game. As it doesn’t involve playing with other gamblers – like poker at a land-based casino would, for example – it appeals to players who like to have a flutter in solitude.

The rise of online casinos has led to an abundance of playing guides being published, with the world’s foremost gambling experts giving valuable advice available at the touch of a button, or the swipe of a screen. That’s meant that gamers can access Jerry “Stickman” Stich’s fool-proof how to play video poker guide – and should do if they want to strike it lucky.

If Thailand were to legalise gambling and also set up a regulatory body of this kind, it would ensure that proper procedures would always be followed – eliminating illegal gambling while being able to tax legitimate gambling operators.

Looking to the future

So, as you can see, there are many very good arguments why the Thai authorities should seriously consider revising the gambling laws – particularly as so many of the country’s residents are already so keen on the activity. But whether they will remains to be seen. First there are a number of hurdles to be overcome, both relating to social attitudes and infrastructure. However, if it wants to move with the times and build on its tourism industry – this would be an obvious way to do both.