Famous for its beautiful islands, wild parties and the enigmatic capital city of Bangkok, Thailand follows in the footsteps of other South-East Asian nations by maintaining a complete ban on the vast majority of gambling activities. There are only two exceptions; the State Lottery, and horse-racing, which is the only form of sports betting available within the countries’ borders.
Despite the recent slowdown of iGaming in Macau, some experts are looking at neighbouring countries such as Thailand to become the next iGaming hub in Asia. But could this country overcome its hostility towards online gambling?
Online Gambling in Thailand
Nearly all forms of gambling are illegal in Thailand. The legislation doesn’t specifically mention internet play, but online gambling falls under the general category of gambling. The two exceptions to the country’s ban on gambling are the national lottery and betting on horses at a few racetracks. Other than that, the entire country is a no-gambling zone.
Even so, gambling is big business in Thailand. Survey after survey finds that nearly 60% of Thais engage in some form of gambling, sports betting, or poker. A survey in 2014 concluded that nearly ฿43 billion was wagered on the World Cup alone in Thailand. This translates to $1.3 billion in total wagers for that one event.
A large majority of the wagers in Thailand are placed with local bookies and agents who operate contrary to the law. Most major betting sites also accept customers from Thailand and process deposits and withdrawals in Thai bahts. The government attempts to block known gambling sites, but people are able to access most sites with a little extra effort.
Anyone caught gambling illegally in Thailand is subject to a ฿1000 fine and up to a year in jail. It’s rare to see individual bettors charged with gambling, but it does happen from time to time. It would be wise to limit the amount of time you spend hanging around underground betting parlors in Thailand.
The same thing also applies to wagers placed online. If you get caught placing a bet over the internet, you’ll face the same penalties as anyone caught at a local bookmaker. It’s exceedingly rare for people to get in trouble for gambling online, but it is possible.
If you’re determined to get involved in gambling in Thailand, the internet is the safest route to take. Police don’t randomly kick down doors in search of individuals placing bets online. If you’re not a part of a syndicate, keep a low profile, and gamble at home away from prying eyes, you should be OK. The biggest risk you would face at that point would be someone outing you to the police as an act of vengeance.
Despite these stringent measures, it is estimated that around 70% of the adult population in Thailand admit to regularly using illegal gambling services, whether that be online hosted sites or the more shady back-street physical establishments. Football betting is a popular market, as evidenced by the 2008 UEFA Championships set in Austria-Switzerland, during which over 1,000 people were arrested in Thailand for sports betting.
The state lottery is also extremely popular, providing Thailand’s citizens with one of their only means of legal betting. Aside from these, golf has seen a huge swell in support over the last few years, spurred on by the successes of Thai pro Thongchai Jaidee. This has led to a large amount of money being wagered on foreign hosted sites during events like the Masters and US Open, as well as the prestigious Asian Tour.
The Future of Gambling in Thailand
Although it seems Thailand’s gambling laws are well established, there are subtly hints that the government may soon be forced to soften its stance and introduce regulation. The legal state lottery is a relatively recent introduction, with the first batch of tickets sold in 2003 – since its launch, Thailand has seen a huge drop in the number illegal lotteries, with blackmarket operators struggling to attract customers.
This “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude may soon be extended to other areas, with the government starting to appreciate legalised and properly regulated gambling as an effective method of cutting crime. However, for the moment it appears that the Thai government is steaming ahead with plans to exercise greater control over the web, and will continue to block access to external content from inside the country. The web is notoriously hard to police, though, with VPN services providing Thai citizens with a cheap and effective way of dodging IP blocking technology. Until the market opens up, keen gamblers can still exercise their passion by visiting sites who openly welcome Thai citizens, safe in the knowledge that their servers are beyond the government’s reach.
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