Thailand is a country of many possibilities, except maybe for gambling. The country disallows any form of betting except for horse races and Thai lottery. The Gambling Act 1935 is the primary law that stipulates what are the only allowed forms of betting Thai residents can engage in. To ensure that gambling addiction will not occur among its citizens, the country implements several anti-gambling laws in both Acts of Parliament and Royal Decrees.
Despite these laws, many foreigners still visit the country for its gambling industry.
The main law governing gambling in Thailand is covered under the Gambling Act 1935. Upon review of the said law, one would identify 46 ministerial regulations and 16 legal opinions of the Council of State and a Royal Decree. Thailand also has the Playing Cards Act stating that making, owning, and selling of playing cards without prior approval from the government is a criminal act. To also curb the spread of illegal gambling, the country also has the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
The Gambling Act of 1935 divided gambling into List A and List B. List A games consist of bets on animal games like dog fights and cockfights. It also includes casino games like slot machines, poker, and roulette. List B, on the other hand, includes all other forms of gambling such as raffles, bingo, and sports betting. Punishment for List A games is higher, with a monetary penalty of 5,000 baht and 3 years of imprisonment. List B games carry the maximum punishment of 1-year imprisonment and a fine of 1,000 baht.
Thailand gambling laws may be aplenty but they are simple to understand. Any act that appears to be gambling or betting such as playing cards or gambling devices, even without monetary gain is illegal.
Thailand allows its locals to bet on horse races and government-sponsored Thai lottery. Thai society is known for having a rampant gambling industry. Locals bet on almost everything including bullfights, cockfights, and boat races.
In 1820, Chinese immigrants introduced the lottery to the locals. Known as “huay,” it was first played within the Chinese community. It hit the mainstream as King Rama III officially recognized it as an income-generating activity. It was also heavily promoted to help circulate the currency in the country.
The Lottery Bureau organizes the draws, which occurs twice a month every 1st and 16th day. The government sells 38 million tickets and 28% of the sales become government revenue, 12% goes to management and administration, and the remaining 60% is what goes to the bettors as prizes. The National Lottery is very popular to the masses because of its accessibility and availability. The country has a number of lottery vendors scattered on streets, markets, and villages.
Lottery tickets in Thailand are pre-printed and cost 40 baht per ticket. The tickets are sold in packs of two so the minimum cost is 80 baht for two tickets. Most sellers put a mark-up and sell the tickets for 120 to 10 baht but they are easily negotiable. Tickets with lucky Buddhist numbers often cost more than regular numbers.
Thailand lottery tickets are sold in two matching packs but the most important is the six-digit numbers. To win, those numbers must be drawn in exact order. The tickets have two more double-digit numbers with the bottom number indicating the type or batch of the ticket. For instance, some ticket batches have corresponding prizes: 3 million baht if all correct and 20 million baht if all correct plus 2 digit bonus correct. Prizes vary per batch.
The love for gambling of Thai locals is so widespread that even the legalised lottery has a black market. It is not uncommon to see a person offering books that have better odds than the official draw. These bookies use the same numbers drawn by the National Lottery but the odds are different. Some of the best include:
Last Two Exact: tickets with the last two exact numbers get 1,000 baht for every 12 baht wagered
Last Three Exact: tickets with the last three exact numbers get 500 baht for every 1 baht wagered
Last Three Any Order: tickets with the last three numbers in any order get 90 baht every 1 baht wagered
Horse race betting is not as popular as the lottery as they are often reserved for those who belong in the high society and are often held in private clubs. There are public race days twice a month that allows legal betting. These horse races are under the military police. Foreigners who wish to place a bet may need to seek assistance from an interpreter since local bookmakers accept wager in Thai.
The government also allow betting on Muay Thai fights at permitted locations.
Yes. Thailand has a number of casinos despite the several laws that make gambling in the country illegal. It should be noted, however, that these casinos operate illegally.
The first large scale gambling houses was out up by the government in the 17th to 18th century as a response to the growing Chinese population. As the number of Chinese immigrants grew, so did the popularity of gambling houses. While the government is concerned about the rise of gambling in the country, they did nothing to combat it because they benefited from the tax revenues. The increase in gambling activity in Thailand has encouraged the locals to play in casinos as well. This eventually forced the Thai officials to pass the gambling act and finally put a stop to gambling.
Thailand used to have gambling dens during the reign of King Rama III. These dens were even promoted as they are good sources of revenues. But as bankruptcy and criminal activity became rampant, these were closed down.
Despite the prohibition on gambling, Thais are quite hooked on this activity, allowing illegal casinos to proliferate. In fact, the country is estimated to have at least 70% of the population as regular gamblers. When visiting the country, one can see many forms of gambling where the locals are enthusiasts. Basement offices and upscale apartments in major cities often serve as popular casino locations. It is also common to find village casinos where locals play in someone’s home by just laying a mat to gamble with dice or cards.
One can also find illegal casinos in bars and internet cafes. A lot of these venues follow the same setup as a regular casino complete with slot machines, card tables, and roulette wheels. Some locals also engaged in friendly bets during billiard games.
Probably one of the reasons Thais still gamble is due to the availability of casinos in neighbouring countries. Thais can gamble in Laos while they are in the duty-free zone between checkpoints. The same is true when locals head to Cambodia. The Cambodian town of Poipet is even famous for hosting bettors from Thailand.
Yes. Under the Playing Cards Act, locals may not own more than 120 playing cards that were not registered with the Excise Department. The law also states that any competent official may enter a private property from sunrise to sunset and conduct a search for any illegal and unregistered playing cards in possession of an individual.
While the government enforces the law, Thailand has a Playing Cards Factory that produces more than 400,000 decks of cards every month.
Gambling is big business in Thailand. This is the reason why numerous illegal casinos exist in the country especially since a large percentage of the population are heavy gamblers. A large percentage of the local population are gamblers. They often engage in poker and sports betting. Since gambling is illegal in Thailand, the local police often conduct raids and arrest bookmakers and individual bettors.
Depending on the severity of the gambling activity, offenders may pay a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 baht and may be imprisoned from one year to three years. More often, organizers of illegal gambling activities get harsher penalties. While it is uncommon to find individual punters caught by the local police, it is highly advised to limit any visit to underground casinos.
The government does not have clear laws about online gambling it is still considered illegal and those caught betting over the internet will also face the same penalties mentioned above. Those keen on online betting can avoid prosecution by choosing online casinos based abroad. Still, this is best done at the privacy of your home where police cannot enter and catch you as you place your wager.
Do note that these Thailand laws on gambling also apply to foreigners. Foreigners caught doing illegal gambling are thrown in jail and deported. Many foreigners in the past charged with gambling are often intimidated. They plead guilty, pay the fine, and accept deportation rather than stay in jail for several months while awaiting trial.