The Kingdom of Thailand (previously Siam) attracts hordes of tourists each year, who flock to the country to enjoy its unique cuisine, magnificent beaches, and striking ancient temples. The country’s tropical climate and centuries-old architecture indeed render it a great tourist destination, but if you plan on gambling during your stay, do not bother visiting.
Gambling is largely prohibited on Thai territory, with the ban extending to nearly all forms of betting you can think of. However, the prohibition hardly prevents locals from participating in such activities. Illegal betting is rampant here, with gambling dens and illegal bookmaking shops strewn around the country. The scope of these activities is so great that there is even an unauthorized version of the national lottery whose popularity greatly surpasses that of the legal lottery.
A recent study carried out in 2019 revealed that approximately 57% of the residents have participated in one form of gambling or another during said year. When applied to Thailand’s entire population, this percentage corresponds to nearly 30.5 million citizens. State lotteries are the most widespread form of gambling with around 23 million participants.
The numbers were almost equally impressive for unlawful lotteries with around 18 million players. The number of Thais to punt on soccer was significantly lower at 3.5 million only. The bets on the popular sport nonetheless account for the highest customer spend (฿160.5 billion), according to the 2019 study.
Significantly fewer citizens pursue online gaming which also falls within the scope of the general gambling prohibition. Now that you have gotten a general idea about the size and scope of Thailand’s gambling industry, let’s explore the laws that govern it in more depth.
Laws That Govern Gambling in Thailand
Despite its massive popularity among Thai people, gambling remains largely prohibited in the country. The only legal and regulated activities of this kind are state lotteries and horse race betting. In 1935, the government passed a legislation called the Gambling Act B.E. 2478. It repealed many of the provisions of the country’s previous gambling legislation (the Gambling Act B.E. 2473).
Another law that applies to gambling is the Anti-Money Laundering Act, B.E. 2542, which came into force in 1999. However, the 1935 Act remains the primary legislation that governs gambling in the country. The Act regulates lotteries but fails to provide a clear definition of gambling. What it does, though, is distinguish between two types of games, List A and List B.
Fees and Tax Rates in Thailand
Section 16 of the 1935 Gambling Act outlines the tax rates imposed on legal gambling games in Thailand. Licensed lottery organizers are subject to tax rates of up to 10% of their gross gaming revenue (GGR), or the difference between their gross income and the prizes paid out to the lottery winners.
The tax rate for authorized bookmakers who take bets on horse races is also 10%, but applies to their net revenue rather than to the GGR. Licensed sweepstakes and raffle organizers must contribute up to 10% of the value of all sold tickets prior to expenses deduction.
Thailand’s Minister of Interior has the remit to impose additional taxes on licensees who organize horse racing, sweepstake, and tote betting. The rate is up to 2.5% and the tax money goes toward the funding of the municipalities where the gambling activities take place.
Online Gambling in Thailand
Thai law makes no specific references to remote gambling but these activities still fall within the scope of the Gambling Act B.E. 2478. Participation in such activities is still a legal violation and punishable under the country’s criminal law. The ban hardly prevents locals from wagering at offshore gambling sites as residents rarely find themselves in hot water for placing bets with foreign operators.
Thai authorities are not in the habit of starting legal proceedings against locals who partake in offshore sports wagering, poker, or online casino gaming in the privacy of their homes. Despite the draconian measures, approximately 70% of the country’s population admit to using offshore gambling services on a regular basis.
Sports betting, in particular, is massive in Thailand, leading to a great inflow of money from the country. Statistics released by the Kasikorn Research Center show that local punters collectively spent approximately ฿58 billion on football wagers in 2016 alone.
The popularity of offshore gambling sites in the country is unsurprising, considering that many foreign operators cater to Thai customers with numerous payment methods and allow payments in the local currency, the Thai Baht (THB). Many offshore operators also enable Thai bettors to fund their accounts in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
The Bank of Thailand (BOT) does not legally recognize cryptocurrencies due to the lack of regulations. BOT unveiled plans in early 2021 to introduce regulations on stablecoins. The latter are virtual tokens whose value is pegged to the USD. If enforced, the regulations will not cover cryptos like Ethereum and Bitcoin since they are not backed by fiat currencies.
Regulation and Law Enforcement
1The Ministry of Interior
The Ministry of Interior is mandated with the regulation of the few legal forms of gambling in Thailand. It also has the remit to implement the Gambling Act B.E. 2478, issue ministerial regulations, and levy gambling fees and taxes.
2Problem Gambling and Addiction Assistance
The Center for Gambling Studies at the Ministry of Public Health provides assistance and advice to locals who suffer from gambling-related problems and addiction. However, few citizens seek professional treatment and help, which largely results from the fact Thais see gambling addiction more like a social issue rather than a medical one. As most forms of wagering are illegal, gambling debts are not enforceable in the country.
3Measures against Offshore Gambling Operators
While recreational bettors from Thailand are rarely subject to prosecution, we cannot say the same for entities and persons who run illegal gambling operations. The local Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (previously called the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology) attempts to combat illegal offshore gambling by monitoring online traffic and restricting access to foreign betting sites.
In September 2020, MDES, in partnership with the Royal Police and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, demanded from all local internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to all offshore betting sites that target Thai residents illegally. The ISPs had fifteen days to comply. Those who failed faced legal consequences under Thailand’s Computer Crime Act B.E. 2550, including hefty fines.
It was the country’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan O’Cha who ordered the measure. He argued such websites were especially harmful to local adolescents who were their primary target. As a result, Thai ISPs managed to restrict the access to over 1,200 sites within a single week.
4Measures against Illegal Landbased Gambling Dens
Despite their fervent stance against online gambling, Thai authorities focus primarily on combating unlawful landbased gambling dens. The government carries out regular raids, with violators facing various sanctions, including the ones we discussed earlier.
One recent example comes from January 2021, when police forces detained over forty individuals on suspicion of running illegal gambling in the Nonthaburi province. As a result, the authorities confiscated cash and illegal gaming equipment from the den.
As you can see, the legal climate in Thailand is rather harsh when it comes to gambling. Local laws prohibit most forms of gambling activities bar state lotteries and horse race betting. However, this hardly stops locals from wagering in one way or another.
A substantial percentage of Thailand residents engage in online gambling at offshore websites. An equally great number pay frequent visits to the illegal gambling dens spread all around the country. By the looks of it, Thailand’s government has no intention of changing its stance soon.