Thailand Weighs Cost Of Illegal World Cup Online BettingJune 3, 2014 6:21 pm
The Southeast Asian country of Thailand is one of the strictest countries when it comes to gambling, with its 1935 Gambling Act banning wagering on all contests except the state lottery and domestic horse racing. In spite of its strict gambling law, however, around 70% of the country’s adult population are believed to gamble regularly, in so doing creating an illegal market worth $6 billion each year. That situation is likely to reach new heights over the next few weeks as the 2014 FIFA World Cup gets underway in Brazil starting June 12th.
According to a report carried out in 2013 by the Centre for Gambling Studies, of the 5,000 Thai people over the age of 15 surveyed 57% were gamblers, 9.41% of which focused on soccer betting, losing on average 260k baht or US$7,959 per person on an annual basis. Furthermore, a huge 19.21% of all gamblers studied were classed as problem gamblers, with charity groups such as Family Media Watch subsequently expressing their concerns over the negative effects gambling can have on families. As the non-profit organization’s VP Charnchai Vikornvongvanich, explains:
“If family members provide such support once, there is no doubt that it will happen again, and the second time the debt will be larger because gamblers want to win back their losses. What we need is a ‘how-to’ book that can teach us how to deal with these issues, because we are unable to solve them by ourselves.”
Sports betting has especially seen an upsurge in popularity, with soccer betting rising at an alarming rate, usually via agents. However, analysts are now expecting an explosion in numbers as online betting increasingly moves into this space, with new gamblers relieved not to have to deal with shady underground agents and casinos. In addition, 95% of gamblers are believed to use prepaid mobile phones, thus making it difficult for authorities to identify individuals.
This is likely to cause further headaches for the Thai government, as this year’s FIFA World Cup is expected to be viewed by a record 310 million people, many of which will now be able to do so via smartphones and tablets. This has even compelled a superintendent at the High-Tech Crime Unit to suggest Thailand should seriously consider reviewing its stance and regulating the online gambling industry altogether. As Pol Col Niwate Arpawasin, explains:
“”We are still stuck in the mindset that gambling is a vice under Buddhism. I think we should look around and accept that the world has changed. If we follow the same old rules, we won’t be able to solve the gambling problem and the addiction that goes with it.”