Thai authorities have been debating whether or not to legalize gambling since the conclusion of COVID-19. A committee tasked by the legislature with examining the feasibility of building integrated resorts made the recommendation that the projects be approved nationwide in July 2022. However, a recent heist in an illegal casino in Bangkok sparked conflicting reactions. With other Asian countries in the process of legalization, Thailand is at a crossroads. As a result of these and other events, and many are unclear of whether the primarily Buddhist nation would soon legalize sports betting and other gambling-related activities in the near future.
Illegal Gambling in Thailand
Thailand has been on a wild goose chase to eradicate illegal gambling for years. However, almost all attempts to combat illegal gambling have failed. Bangkok’s governor Chadchart Sittipunt recently ordered the active suppression of illegal gambling after an illegal casino was discovered and closed down in the city. The governor suggested in his speech that the information be forwarded to the police via the Traffy Fondue platform, which is linked to 88 police stations.
The governor’s statement shed light on the various issues delaying efforts to eliminate illegal gambling in Bangkok and throughout Thailand, including the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s (BMA) inability to apprehend the illegal operators. Chadchart also stated that the BMA did not prioritize inspecting the region for illegal casino businesses and that people ignored filing cases on Traffy Fondue because they believed the BMA ignored such cases.
The governor’s expose of the issues affecting the crackdown on illegal gambling came barely a month after the Royal Thai Police Division 1 Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pol. Cl. Ekarat Pao-in, announced the launch of an investigation into five Din Daeng officers for covering up for casino operators. The announcement highlights the difficulties in combating illegal gambling in Thailand.
The Proposed New Legislation
With illegal gambling so prevalent, the government is undoubtedly losing tax revenue. Contrary to popular belief, Thais enjoy gambling. Approximately 70% of them regularly gamble on illegal websites and casinos.
Fortunately, Thai authorities recognize the gambling industry’s revenue potential. Thailand’s National Assembly appointed a committee in 2021 that later recommended amending Thailand’s 1935 Gambling Act. The legislation forbids almost all forms of gambling but allows the government to issue licenses for a few gaming activities and venues.
If amended, the Constitutional Act would allow all forms of gambling, including sports betting, which is relatively modern. It would allow Thai authorities to grant concessions to private companies in exchange for a 30% tax. The law would also allow for the construction of business complexes, from which the government would levy additional taxes.
Will the Amendment Put an End to Illegal Gambling?
Although beneficial, the question of whether the amendment will be sufficient in combating illegal gambling establishments remains. The Mae Sot district of Tak Province, according to the parliament-appointed committee, is one of the best places to establish the first legal casino. The region’s proximity to Myanmar makes it ideal for the legalization of gambling.
Following a recent trip to the area, a committee member revealed that combining legalization with such strategies can significantly reduce the tendency for illegal gambling. Enabling legal local gambling activities and keeping them under control can help Thai people who want to gamble maximize their resources. The main assumption is that allowing legal casinos is equivalent to prohibiting illegal gambling. Illegal gambling, on the other hand, goes beyond playing poker, baccarat, or blackjack in a physical casino. It also includes using the internet to gamble on illegal websites and sportsbooks.
Fortunately, the proposed amendment will cover both online and offline gambling. The new edition of the Thailand Gambling Act of 1935, if amended, will allow sportsbooks to open shop in Thailand. The legislation empowers the Thai government to license both online and physical sportsbooks. It is safe to say that, if passed, the proposed gambling legislation will herald the start of the end of illegal online gambling. Thailand could then follow in the footsteps of other Asian sports betting markets, where sports fans and gamblers alike have abandoned illegal platforms in favor of licensed channels.
At first glance, it may appear unlikely that Thailand will not join the current wave of legalizing gambling due to its long-standing cultural inclinations. However, times are changing and countries have to adapt to the new realities, especially after the pandemic blow. A closer examination reveals that the odds are still in favor of legalization. Thailand, like all other countries, is unlikely to tolerate illegal gambling. Instead, we can expect a repeal of the section of the constitution that prohibits gambling legalization and the adoption of another that includes all gambling activities, including sports betting, in the near future.