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A critical look at Thailand’s strict gambling laws

Gambling Laws in Thailand

According to a recent study by the Centers for Gambling Studies and Social and Business Development, more than half of Thailand’s adult population engages in any form of gambling within a year. The most rampant were sports betting and the state lottery. Yet, illegal casino gambling is a common practice in the nation.

Thai gambling dens have long been preyed on by the authorities. Random crackdowns are carried out in underground casinos where illegal activities such as drug trafficking are believed to thrive.

Thai gambling laws are restrictive with outrageous consequences yet almost entirely ignored by the masses. Besides, they also ban the production of some gambling items such as cards. But what exactly does the law state, and how effective is gambling regulation in Thailand?

What does the law state?

Currently, Thailand refers to its 1935 Gambling Act, which prohibits any form of gambling besides state-run lotteries and horse racing. However, online gambling was not a major concern at the time of the regulation. Yet the authorities assume its illegality anyway, considering it falls subject to the non-state-run lottery and horse racing forms.

The Act touches on various aspects of gambling, even stating how payments between the winner and loser in the legal forms should be handled. Other sections of the law specify how loans for gambling should be handled.

Physical Gambling

According to the law, under no circumstances shall a casino run in Thailand. The regulations go as far as dictating a maximum of 120 cards that a person may own. However, numerous illegal casinos and poker rooms still exist in Bangkok.

The laws are specific on the penalties that may be incurred under different gambling categories. The categories include an A list covering traditional gambling forms such as baccarat, slots, poker, and animal games such as cockfights. Engaging in any A-list gaming may be fined up to 5,000 THB or three years imprisonment.

The B list includes games like sports betting, bingo, and raffles, considered less harmful than the former but can be fined up to 1000 THB or one-year imprisonment. 

Online Gambling

The 1935 Gambling Act does not specify online gambling regulation, although its practice is considered subject to the antigambling laws. However, a significant portion of the Thais population wagers on overseas providers who are not liable to Thailand’s laws. 

Yet, the nation’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has conducted several crackdowns that have led to the elimination of some providers and the blockage of their customers' IP addresses. The courts have also ordered the closure of thousands of websites that advertise online gambling in the nation.

There have also been instances where celebrities have been arrested for marketing online casinos.

How serious is the war against gambling?

Despite the regulations, underground gambling and online betting at offshore betting sites continue to be a massive industry in Thailand. Indeed, when we asked the owner of Thaibets365 for his opinions on the situation, he noted, "The fact that Thai betting during the UEFA Cup was among the highest in the Asian region is a clear indication that the Thai government is unable to prevent betting and that everyone would benefit from a new gambling policy." The remark is in response to the Thai government's aggressive actions prior to the UEFA Cup to discourage Thai citizens from betting. However, Thai football fans continued to bet on despite strong government sanctions such as fines, imprisonment, or deportation in the case of a tourist.

Besides the law, gambling is also considered a vice to Buddhism, the nation's leading religion. But still, the urge for gambling outweighs religious beliefs for most residents. The authorities, religious forces, and the illegal gambling elites have unanimously opposed the legalization of gambling for decades.

How big is the underground industry?

Fortunately, the laws are almost entirely ignored, both by the Citizens and the authorities. But even the underground kingpins keep their gambling activities secret. 

For tourists, the only way to get around the gambling dens is through the locals. The casino territories are crime-prone; hence many gamblers opt for Cambodia, where gambling is legal. There is also a higher risk of being caught in casino raids. 

But for most locals, online gambling is the safest option, as the authorities hardly find a cooperative provider that can surrender their customers. To bypass online restrictions, some punters use VPNs.

However, it is also risky to blindly pick an online casino as they can almost get away with anything. Scammers can change game results in their favor, deny bonuses, or in the worst scenario, refuse to disburse winnings.

Luckily, reputable dealers exist for serious gamblers making a living out of wagers.

Nonetheless, many government officials are beginning to appreciate the role of gambling as a potential savior to the economy, which is now in a downturn following recent global trends. Debates about its legalization have already started, and likely, a final decision to legalize the industry is not that far from the horizon.

For more information about the Thai Gambling Act click here.

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