Thailand’s Dangerous Addiction to Gambling, Over 1 Million Thai Pathological Gamblers
Thailand’s gambling laws are fairly strict. Thai players can bet on the national lottery and horse races, but all other forms of gambling are illegal. Despite the ban, however, there is a massive underground gambling industry in Thailand.
Illegal casinos, internet betting shops, underground lotteries, and pop-up bookmakers accept wagers on everything from cockfighting to Muay Thai, creating a shadow economy worth billions of dollars per year.
According to a ThaiPBS, police have arrested 10,644 gamblers since the start of the World Cup, including approximately 9,000 who bet on football matches.
Last week, the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) police launched an investigation into a large online gambling network with 13 locations in Bangkok and the northern province of Chiang Rai. Five people were detained during this operation, and valuables, cash, and bank books were seized.
Among the items seized were seven expensive cars, 42 pricey watches, 45 designer purses, collectible dolls, three million baht in cash, and 166 bank books.
According to Thanakorn Komkris, an anti-gambling campaigner, the COVID-19 pandemic and technological advancements have made gambling easier than ever before, leading people who are short on cash to turn to illegal websites that have sprouted up all over Southeast Asia.
One million addicted to gambling
Chulalongkorn University’s Center for Gambling Studies in Bangkok reports, these gambling sites may have attracted up to 700,000 new gamblers just this year. “Over one million Thais identify as pathological gamblers,” Thanakorn said.
In light of the money flowing through these websites and the expansion of gambling venues in neighboring Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, some lawmakers have proposed amending the 1935 Gambling Act to allow legal casinos.
Casinos in the Cambodian border town of Poipet are frequently staffed by Thai nationals and are always packed with Thai customers.
Thailand’s neighbors, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore, have all legalized gambling and built casino complexes to attract tourists and boost their economies. Thailand, on the other hand, has kept its 1935 Gambling Act, which prohibits all forms of cash betting except the state lottery and horse races at state-licensed racetracks.
Legalizing Casinos in Thailand
Proposals to legalize casinos were debated in parliament in late June, and a study commissioned by the House of Representatives could lead to the legislation needed to make “entertainment complexes,” another term for casinos, a reality.
The Casino Committee of Thailand has stated that having five casino resorts spread across the country is feasible. 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 were all suggested locations.
Thailand could benefit from following the Asian trend of high-end integrated resorts, which typically generate significant revenue from meetings and events. “At least $11 billion in additional tax revenue would be collected annually once several facilities are operational,” said Pichet Chuamuangphan, the panel’s vice-chairman.
Meanwhile, Thai officials have long claimed that gambling violates the precepts of Buddhism, the country’s dominant religion, and encourages gambling addiction as well as other societal ills.