Debates about gambling regulation in Thailand have continued for ages. The country has yet to legalize gambling, but Thai players aren’t waiting for the green light. Learn more in this article.
The land of the free
The Kingdom of Thailand, which was called Siam until 1939, is one of Southeast Asia’s hottest tourist destinations.
These are just some interesting facts about Thailand:
- Unlike other Asian countries, Thailand was never colonized by European powers
- Thailand is called Prathet Thai in Thai, which means “land of the free”
- Bangkok’s real name is Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit — and it’s the hottest city in the world
- Thailand is home to one tenth of all animal species of the world and 1,500 species of orchids
- The country has 1,430 islands
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. Despite the stability on the throne — the previous king Phumiphon Adunyadet ruled for 70 years — the country has had 17 constitutions and experienced a sequence of political upheavals, protests, and coups. However, Thailand has always retained its independence (or since 1238 to be more precise). The country consists of 76 provinces and 1 municipality, populated with over 69 million people, though the population is spread unevenly, with the highest density in Bangkok.
The Thai economy is growing. The unemployment rate was 0.99% in 2019 compared to 1.06% in 2018, inflation is also decreasing, and the real GDP showed a year on year growth of 2.62% in 2019. Well-developed tourism infrastructure and successful tax reforms have supported stable economic growth.
Is there gambling in Thailand?
At the moment the only legal verticals in Thailand are horse race betting and the national lottery.
Though gambling is illegal in Thailand, the country is viewed as having great potential for investors in the event of its legislation becoming more liberal. The government of Thailand has been discussing legalizing gambling for years, and the ice seems to be finally melting.
This begs the question: how popular is gambling in Thailand?
On the one hand, Thais are deeply religious. Thailand is officially a Buddhist country, and while Buddhism doesn’t explicitly prohibit gambling, it is strongly against theft and fraud, which are normally associated with gambling. And gambling itself, while not prohibited, certainly isn’t encouraged.
But on the other hand, Thais definitely gamble.
According to a report from the Center for Gambling Studies conducted in 2019, over 30 million Thais participated in various types of gambling, including games and sport betting. Around 200 illegal gambling establishments were found in Thailand. Besides illegal underground casinos, Thais can also access offshore black market websites or travel to neighboring countries where gambling is regulated.
But locals are not the only audience: the Thai economy, especially the trade and service sectors, largely depends on tourism that has been promoted since the 1980s. Aside from the massive numbers of tourists that visit the country in general, citizens of nearby Asian countries where gambling is prohibited, like China, are perfectly happy to travel for the sake of playing blackjack, roulette, Sic Bo, or Dragon Tiger.
Wherever there is an active black market, there is a government missing out on tax revenues. Thais don’t have to look very far abroad to see the potential benefits of legalization; when Singapore allowed two casino resorts in 2010, Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, state budgets were raised by 14,5% in the first year, and by 6,3% in the next year.
In 2021, the Thai government (and opposition parties) started discussing gambling regulation on a different level — the idea that legal gambling venues in Thailand might “save the country”. After tourism revenues dried up during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities revived the idea of harnessing the power of gambling to boost economic growth. The government voted to gather a committee of 60 members (representing the cabinet and different parties) that is supposed to investigate this issue and analyze pros and cons of adopting a gambling regulation.
Considering the size of the population and number of tourists visiting the country every year, when Thailand opens its doors to gambling investors it will be a huge market with tremendous opportunities. We can assume that Thai players will prefer card games and sport betting, particularly football and cockfighting, and their gambling habits will be similar to their neighbors.
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