Famous for its beautiful islands, wild parties and the enigmatic capital city of Bangkok, Thailand follows in the footsteps of other South-East Asian nations by maintaining a complete ban on the vast majority of gambling activities. There are only two exceptions; the State Lottery, and horse-racing, which is the only form of sports betting available within the countries’ borders.
In spite of the blanket ban, gambling is still very active within the country, with players still keen to make the most of the limited offline and online opportunities. Illegal gambling does not come without its risks, though, and Thai bookmakers are notorious for withholding major wins from players - with no regulator to turn to, the citizens are forced to accept their losses and find a new, more reliable haunt.
What's more, the Thailand Civil and Commercial Code (section 853 and 855) makes it clear that any form of gambling debt, whether it be to a friend or a bookmaker, is not enforceable. These somewhat draconian laws have led to a proliferation of online gambling, with Western operators including Mr Green offering a far greater amount of protection to its Thai players than their own government. Whilst the majority of anti-gambling countries have reluctantly implemented some form of licencing, the Thai government has never even considered it for the online sphere, and frowns upon its citizens partaking in any gambling activity, be it foreign or domestic.
In fact, the government’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has a mandate to monitor internet traffic and block access to these websites from Thailand IP addresses. They are also tasked with analysing telephone call traffic during large gambling events, such as poker tournaments, in order to see if the people at the end of the phone are involved in illegal acts of gambling. Despite their fervently anti-gambling attitudes, law enforcement agencies are focused on physical gambling dens that are easier to raid, meaning that residents using online gambling sites are less likely to face penalties.
Despite these stringent measures, it is estimated that around 70% of the adult population in Thailand admit to regularly using illegal gambling services, whether that be online hosted sites or the more shady back-street physical establishments. Football betting is a popular market, as evidenced by the 2008 UEFA Championships set in Austria-Switzerland, during which over 1,000 people were arrested in Thailand for sports betting.
The state lottery is also extremely popular, providing Thailand's citizens with one of their only means of legal betting. Aside from these, golf has seen a huge swell in support over the last few years, spurred on by the successes of Thai pro Thongchai Jaidee. This has led to a large amount of money being wagered on foreign hosted sites during events like the Masters and US Open, as well as the prestigious Asian Tour.
Although it seems Thailand’s gambling laws are well established, there are subtly hints that the government may soon be forced to soften its stance and introduce regulation. The legal state lottery is a relatively recent introduction, with the first batch of tickets sold in 2003 - since its launch, Thailand has seen a huge drop in the number illegal lotteries, with blackmarket operators struggling to attract customers.
This "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude may soon be extended to other areas, with the government starting to appreciate legalised and properly regulated gambling as an effective method of cutting crime. However, for the moment it appears that the Thai government is steaming ahead with plans to exercise greater control over the web, and will continue to block access to external content from inside the country. The web is notoriously hard to police, though, with VPN services providing Thai citizens with a cheap and effective way of dodging IP blocking technology. Until the market opens up, keen gamblers can still exercise their passion by visiting sites like Mr Green, who openly welcome Thai citzens, safe in the knowledge that their servers are beyond the government's reach.