Middle East

‘It’s in our DNA’: Thailand’s gambling public bets on the World Cup.crime

Bangkok, Thailand – Every 15 minutes, a small crowd gathers at a Bangkok market shack to wait for the numbers to be drawn.

Rumors of anticipation are evident at each ping-pong lottery draw, but the excitement is always short-lived.

A betel nut-biting man sighed at losing 1,000 Thai baht ($28) when number five was called in a recent draw. Another crumples up a piece of paper with a 20 baht ($0.50) bet on it.

Punters who guess the correct number win 10x their bet. But in the end the house always wins.

“You can make up to $15,000 a month from each table, paying the right people to keep you in business,” the street bookmaker running the lottery told Al Jazeera, requesting anonymity. Told.

Qatar World Cup starts on Sunday, Thailand is preparing for a surge in gambling. Gambling is very popular, but illegal outside of a few state-approved venues.

Thailand failed to qualify for the tournament, but Thais are expected to bet up to $1.6 billion on the game, according to researchers at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

Anti-gambling advocates in Thailand worry about surge in betting expected during Qatar World Cup [File: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Thanakorn Komkris, secretary of the Stop Gambling Foundation, told Al Jazeera that “World Cup fever will increase gambling newcomers by 50%.”

“But sadly, based on past football tournament experience, about a quarter of these newcomers turn into regular gamblers.”

Under Thailand’s 1935 Gambling Act, gambling outside of official lotteries and a few racetracks is illegal.

Officials have long argued that gambling violates the principles of Buddhism, Thailand’s majority religion, and contributes to the spread of other social ills.

Still, illegal casinos, online gambling parlors, underground lotteries, and pop-up bookmakers betting on everything from cockfights to Muay Thai are rife, forming a shadow economy worth billions of dollars annually.

The COVID-19 pandemic and technology have made gambling easier than ever, says anti-gambling activist Tanakorn.

“More than one million Thais identify as pathological gamblers,” he said.

“Some are at odds with family members because they have to borrow money, while others turn to loan sharks who are often tied to illegal football websites. They are intertwined like a web.”

thai horse racing
Gambling outside of official lotteries and a few racetracks is illegal in Thailand [File: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

Ahead of the World Cup, Thai police announced last week that they had shut down 500 websites linked to a national gambling syndicate known as ‘Fat Fast’. Authorities seized approximately $13 million in property as part of a raid, local media reported.

Jun, a 34-year-old office worker in Bangkok, knows firsthand the temptations that come with World Cup fever.

He bet up to 2,000 baht ($55.70) on each match during the 2018 Russia World Cup and lost around 40,000 baht ($1,120). This is several times the average monthly salary. Despite his loss, Jun plans to flounder again this time.

“But I don’t think we can take that much risk this time because of the unstable economy,” he said. “I just want to be in. It makes the game more interesting to watch.”

Like many Thais, Jun bets on local motorbike taxi drivers.

But he says the real money is in winning and losing online, where millions of baht can be wagered.

Many of these companies are based along the Thai-Cambodian border, officials said.

The Center for Gambling Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University estimates that these gambling sites have created up to 700,000 new gamblers this year alone.

Thai money moving through these websites, and the proliferation of casinos in neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, have prompted some legislators to amend the Gambling Act of 1935 to allow licensed casinos. I came up with the idea to fix it.

In June, parliament debated the issue and set up a commission to assess the relaxation of the law. If successful, the move to push gambling out of the shadows could break a long-standing taboo and bring in the billions of dollars in tax revenue currently flowing into illegal businesses.

Opponents argue that licensed businesses inevitably grow so large and so fast that authorities struggle to curb them, especially when they involve illegal activities such as prostitution, human trafficking, drugs, and money lending. argues that it will

muy tai
Gambling in Muay Thai and other sports is popular in Thailand [File: Wally Santana/AP]

Activists like Thanakorn also argue that any legal change must be preceded by intense debate about its health and social impact in a country already addicted to gambling.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Tuchakrit Wongpanaporn, a former gambler who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to warning people about the dangers of gambling addiction, told Al Jazeera.

“Unless Thailand can regulate gambling like other Western countries, I don’t think so,” said Wongpanaporn, popularly known as Sia Joe, who lost more than $1.5 million to her addiction. “The government must first crack down on his online gambling before he can even consider legalizing casinos.”

There is also concern over who controls the gambling business, with casinos in neighboring Cambodia and Laos gaining a notorious reputation as hotbeds for gambling. Online Scams by Chinese Crime Gangs.

“There is no regulator strong and serious enough to deal with the ‘black business’ associated with criminal activities like gambling,” Wongpanaporn said.

But for gamblers like Jun, legalization can only be a good thing. Whatever its shortcomings, it would at least free millions of Thais from the threat of legal sanctions.

“The problem is Thailand. Gambling is part of our DNA,” he said.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/11/17/in-our-dna-thailand-braces-for-world-cup-gambling-frenzy ‘It’s in our DNA’: Thailand’s gambling public bets on the World Cup.crime

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