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Gambling in Southeast Asia is really taking off over the last few years, with even more countries getting ready to get in on all the action. Thailand is not one of them though, and they remain firm in their opposition to gambling in general.
Thailand does have limited legal gambling though, and the most popular form of gambling is playing the lottery. The lottery here was very popular even before it became legal, and the government looked at all of the money people were spending on it and decided that it would make sense for them to cash in on this bonanza themselves rather than let the black market make all of the money off of this.
Betting on horse racing is also permitted at two Bangkok race tracks which are also exempt from this law. These tracks are said to be frequented mostly by Bangkok high society and doesn’t’ really amount to that much as far as the overall amount of money that the Thai spend on gambling, as opposed to the lottery which is widely popular and also reaches into every corner of Thailand. (1)
Other than that, all other forms of gambling are illegal, under the Thailand Gambling Act of 1935. (2) This law prohibits all gambling not specifically authorized by law. The government hasn’t been too eager to authorize very much either.
There are other countries in Asia which have very strict anti-gambling laws, as well as countries elsewhere in the world, but a couple of things really stand out where Thailand is concerned, that really separate them from the pack here.
The first is the zeal that the government pursues gambling. While the penalties handed out aren‘t generally that severe, ranging from 500 to 5000 baht (about $15 to $150), and people found gambling are usually just fined, depending on the severity of the gambling, it also can carry up to 3 years imprisonment. The harsher penalties are generally reserved for organizers of the games though.
These laws apply to foreigners as well, and the authorities have been known to throw them in jail awaiting deportation, and deportation is often the response here in addition to fines, although if the offense is minor sometimes immigration officials will waive deportation. (3)
Foreigners and especially tourists charged with gambling can find themselves pretty intimidated though and often welcome a fine and deportation rather than facing more rigorous prosecution through the Thai justice system, so they very often plead guilty rather than having to post a long term bail bond, or if unable, serving several months in jail awaiting trial, and in either case having their stay perhaps extended far beyond what was anticipated.
There are over 50,000 arrests a year for gambling in Thailand, a huge amount, and anti gambling laws here aren’t just given lip service or exist primarily on paper only, like in a lot of places. The government is very serious about cracking down on it, and they take a very proactive approach to it as well, for instance having government agents spy on people, or set up gambling operations to entrap them. This is much more like a war on drugs than it is just looking to keep the peace, but the war here is on gambling.
Playing Poker In Thailand
The other distinguishing feature of gambling in Thailand is that in spite of these strict laws and great efforts to enforce them, illegal gambling in Thailand is very rampant, and that’s even an understatement.
To give you an idea of how big the black market for gambling is here, they do have a legal national lottery, but there’s also a black market lotteries here, and black market lotteries are said to be even bigger than the official, legal one. The black market versions are said to offer better odds and that is why people find them more appealing.
The main reason why black market gambling is so big in Thailand though is that the Thai people have a voracious appetite for gambling, and 70% of the people here are regular gamblers, a huge amount. When you throw that up against the very limited amount of legal gambling, well there’s going to be a lot of illegal gambling going on, and indeed, the underground gambling market here is a very large one, in the billions per year. People very often will also travel to neighboring countries, especially Cambodia, where several casinos are set up along the border with Thailand specifically for this. (4)
In addition to this, underground casinos are said to be everywhere, although they do concentrate on casino games, and there isn’t much poker around within the underground scene, other than in home games, where you have to know the host to be invited. (5)
Playing poker for money is against the law of course, and while it’s not illegal to be in possession of a deck of cards, it is illegal to produce or import playing cards, under the Playing Cards Act of 1943. (6) This is designed to slow down card games for money, but nothing slows down gambling here very much.
While simply playing a game with cards isn’t illegal, the presumption will be that if you are doing this then you are gambling, unless you are playing a game like bridge at a licensed bridge club, but it is true that given the penchant for gambling here, if cards are being played, money is probably changing hands as well.
Online Gambling in Thailand
It’s also forbidden to gamble online in Thailand, including playing online poker, but if the strict laws aren’t that effective in slowing down land based gambling, where there is a real risk of arrest, then online poker players here aren’t going to be too put out by the fact online poker is against the law here as well, especially since it’s very difficult to catch people doing this.
Given that the government here isn’t shy to enforce anti gambling laws, it’s not a surprise that they look to block people from accessing online gambling sites and online poker sites, as the government does in several other countries.
The actions of the government here isn’t just limited to this though, as they are particularly eager to prevent gambling in this country, and for those who do wish to play online poker, special care is advised, for instance you don’t want to be using a Thai credit card and also be found to be accessing online poker sites through a Thai ISP, and the government is known here to go to extremes to try to catch gamblers and even though it’s much more difficult to do so with online poker, they are still on the case here.
So this is a case where it’s a good idea to use a proxy to connect to online poker sites, even when playing, such as a virtual private network, and it’s also a good idea to use an internet wallet located in another country to move money in and out of these sites.
So there are a lot of online poker players in Thailand who enjoy online poker and with a little caution many feel pretty safe doing so. One of my top recommendations would probably be BetOnline Poker & Casino, which accepts players from almost EVERY location in the world minus the United States and several other countries.