In Thailand the anti-gambling laws are many and include both Royal Decrees and Acts of Parliament. Before covering these, I should explain I am profession gambler that lives here and I am very familiar with our gambling industry. In this article I will explain the law, discuss how widespread gambling is and conclude with information regarding our legal forms of gambling which are horse races held in Bangkok and our national lottery.
Thailand Gambling Law
The primary law that regulates gambling in Thailand is the Gambling Act, B.E. 2478 (1935). If you click that link you will see there are 46 ministerial regulations, 16 legal opinions of Council of State and a Royal Decree all related to this law.
There are also many separate laws relating to gambling. One example is the Playing Cards Act, B.E. 2486 (1943) which makes owning, manufacturing and selling playing cards a crime. Furthermore, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, B.E. 2542 (1999) strengthens our anti-gambling law in certain cases.
While what I just shared is a lot of reading and doesn’t cover it all, Thailand gambling law is very easy to understand as far as gamblers (as opposed to those “offering gambling”) are concerned. In short: doing anything that may appear to be gambling (playing cards with no money involved even, or having gambling devices) and actual gambling – have penalties ranging from a 1,000 baht fine to one-year in prison.
In all my years involved in the Thai gambling industry, the closest I have heard of gamblers being jailed were the several times farang (foreigners) were detained and deported over poker. While perhaps it does happen, my experience is that Thai people caught gambling are only fined and quite often the matter is settled with an on the spot payment to police. It is also my experience that the strict part of our gambling law applies not to players but rather to gambling den owners, junkets, bookies, agents and gambling banks.
Thai People Love to Gamble
Despite our strict anti-gambling law, illegal gambling is widespread in Thailand. Chulalongkorn professor of economics Pasuk Phongpaichit is famous for his book Utsahakam Kan Phanan (The Gambling Industry). He estimates 70% of Thai people are regular gamblers. Living here and having visited dozens of provinces, my opinion is that he may be correct.
All over the country gambling can be found. In major cities casinos exist in the basement of office space malls and rented upscale apartments. In villages casinos are often in someone’s home, or are just a mat spread out to play dice such as in the photo shown left. Card games with friends, football betting with bookies, or playing numbers draws with non official sources are all common too.
Casinos Near Thailand
Another factor in gambling being widespread is all of our land borders have casinos. Wikipedia entry: Poipet can’t help but mention gambling because hosting Thai gamblers is what this Cambodian town is known for. Here the famous Crown Casino has a sportsbook with odds on nearly all football matches form around the world. They also have a gambling website 9crown.com. As you can see here, Thais can bet online and withdrawal in cash at the casino. As this casino is located in the land between entry/exit points it is possible to visit without being stamped in to Cambodia.
The same is true even in the Northeast. For example: the Nong Khai crossing into Laos is another area where Thais can gamble in the duty free zone between check points. We also have cheap flights with AirAsia to many casino destinations such as Malaysia and Singapore. While more upscale, 2012 Macau tourism figures show 231,295 arrivals from Thailand that year.
Junkets are another aspect of gambling in Thailand. The largest casino in Laos is Savan Vegas. Their company website is only offered in English and Thai (not Lao). Most interesting is their getting here page starts with:
“We offer a Thai Bus program, Rolling Program and Airfare program with high commission and other benefits. Any Junket or agent who is interested, please contact VIP Service or Sales and Marketing for more information at the following numbers:”
Getting Thai people to visit Cambodia and Lao casinos and Victoria Point in Burma (which is reachable by boat shuttle from Ranong) is big business, but understand these casinos may not be safe and there is no guarantee the games are fair. The Thai government has posted the notice shown right on their side of border crossings.
The same as Crown in Cambodia: Savant Vegas in Laos in another of many casinos in the region that offers online betting too. Players can play casino games online while in Thailand and then collect with this casino in person. Understand these online casinos have next to no regulation for game fairness. If you are interested in a much safer options read OnlineBetting.com’s 3rd series in the set of articles found at the bottom of the page.
Before I conclude this section, I feel compelled to stress that what I covered here does not even come close to covering how widespread gambling is in Thailand. Even our legal lottery has a massive black market with at least one person in every village running books that offer better odds than the official draw. Gambling on Muay Thai is very popular as is football betting, card games and even cock-fight wagers. In short it is best explained by saying most of Thailand loves to gamble.
Legal Gambling in Thailand
In Thailand we have only two forms of gambling that are exempt from the laws mentioned in this article. The less popular is horse racing in Bangkok which is mostly done at clubs reserved for hi-so (high society) types. However, twice a month there are public race days where betting at the track’s official tote is legal. This is something those living outside Bangkok are not very interested in. Far more popular, and it’s not even close, is playing our national lottery.
In Thailand the lottery is drawn on the first and sixteenth of every month. For reason most of the English language articles on the topic are poorly written and/or contain many errors I have decided to cover this final topic is its own article called Thai Lottery Explained.