Thai Police Make 14,300 Gambling Arrests During Russia World Cup

Thai police have nabbed more than 14,300 people on gambling charges since the beginning of the Russia World Cup last month, a police general revealed on Thursday. Most of the arrested individuals have been from Bangkok and surrounding areas.

Deputy Police Commissioner Pol. Gen. Chalermkiat Srivorakhan further told media that of those arrested, 534 were suspected to have been conducting illegal betting activities. Gambling is generally prohibited in Thailand under the Southeast Asian nation’s Gambling Act 1935. Those engaging in illegal gambling activities can too face criminal charges and financial penalties. Betting on horse racing and a state-operated lottery are the only two legal gambling options under that same law.

Despite the heavy restrictions, studies show that the greater portion of Thai population is gambling actively, mostly resorting to illegal channels to do so. According to recent data, around 70% of all adult Thais gamble regularly to feed a thriving illegal gambling market believed to be worth hundreds of billions bahts.

Pol. Gen. Chalermkiat said Thursday that during raids across the country, they have seized around THB45 million worth in cash and bank accounts from suspected gamblers. In addition, Thai police have shut down as many as 211 illegal betting websites that have offered betting on World Cup matches.

Betting Craze Sweeps Thailand

The arrests made thus far into the World Cup already eclipse those made during the major football tournament’s 2014 edition in Brazil, Pol. Gen. Chalermkiat said Thursday. During the 2014 World Cup, Thai police arrested around 5,000 suspected gamblers and providers of illegal betting services. Only 1,700 people were arrested on gambling-related charges in 2010 when the World Cup was hosted by South Africa.

Pol. Gen. Chalermkiat explained that the substantial increase in illegal betting activity in the country was fueled by the easy access to gambling services the Internet and smartphones provide. The police officer also stressed that a peak in illegal gambling is expected to be reached ahead of Sunday’s final when France plays Croatia.

Thailand has not been the only country in the Asia-Pacific region to have been cracking down on illegal betting during the World Cup. Football has a massive following in the region. And due to restrictive regulatory regimes, gambling activities are mostly conducted illegally. Black market operators are offering attractive odds on football matches to lure customers. However, the lack of proper regulations often results in bettors becoming victims of deceitful operations.

To avoid regulatory and legal pitfalls, providers of betting services mostly conduct their activities via the Internet and through messaging apps. Earlier this month, Chinese messaging platform WeChat announced that it has shut down more than 50,000 accounts and has deleted over 8,000 group chats that were found to have been related to illegal gambling since the beginning of the Russia World Cup.

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