Thailand is an exciting country of many possibilities, and one certainly worth visiting at least once. Being a popular tourist destination, you might expect it to excel in all entertainment branches, gambling included.
However, this is not the case. Nearly all forms of gambling, including Texas Hold’em and other poker formats, are banned in the country under the threat of prison and hefty fines.
So, what activities are left for gambling enthusiasts in Thailand, and where can you find them?
Moreover, why is Thailand’s gambling situation like this, and was gambling always outlawed in the country? We’ll address all of these topics in this article, starting with the latter one.
Thailand’s Gambling History
Thailand’s history is closely intertwined with gambling, as this activity has been an essential part of Thai society through the years.
In the past, the Siamese population had a massive gambling industry organized on a local community level.
The most common gambling forms that have been closely tied with Thai culture are betting on cockfights, bullfights, and boat racing.
During the 19th century, in particular, Thai people have adopted over 100 gambling games.
This was mainly due to the increased number of foreign merchants and immigrants coming into the country.
During this period, gambling officially became mainstream, leading to the introduction of the Huay lottery, brought from China.
The Siamese were allowed to play in legal gambling dens. What’s more, during the period, the Government of Thailand promoted these activities as a significant revenue source.
The Government Ban on Gambling
By the mid-1910s, all of these legal dens were closed, and all gambling activities were forbidden. The king’s explanation at the time was that he wanted to reduce gambling-related criminal activities.
The situation remained unchanged for years, up until 1930, when the first gambling act was passed.
The law was revised in 1935 and is nowadays officially known as the Gambling Act of 1935. To this day, it’s still the primary law that regulates all gambling activities in the country.
Besides the Gambling Act of 1935, there are many other less significant laws regulating separate gambling niches.
The most notable one is the Playing Cards Act of 1943, which makes manufacturing, selling, and owning playing cards a crime.
It’s worth mentioning that gambling is more than just a mere entertainment activity for most citizens, mainly because of its unique standing among the population.
It’s generally frowned upon in society, as it is one of Buddhism’s major vices. On the other hand, gambling is also an integral part of many ceremonies and festivals and remains a major part of Thai life, despite its stringent rules and regulations.
The Current State of Gambling & Poker in Thailand
The Gambling Act of 1935 facilitated the prohibition of gambling in Thailand that stands to this very day.
The law or the government’s stance on the legality of gambling in Thailand hasn’t changed for almost nine decades.
The upside is that at least there’s no confusion like in many other Asian countries. The law clearly states – if you do any activity that appears to be gambling, you’ll get in trouble with the law.
If you’re caught gambling in this country, you’ll risk a hefty fine and up to a year in prison. This is a rare occurrence, but there are some examples of players suffering these harsh penalties.
Although it’s not worth risking any jail time when visiting Thailand, the general rule is that the prohibition is more focused on punishing gambling operators, bookies, and agents rather than the players themselves.
What About Sports Betting in Thailand?
If you wish to stick to the legal side of gambling in Thailand, your options will be limited. The only things you can bet on are the state lottery and horse racing.
Surprisingly, the most popular sport in the world, football, is also on the list of illegal gambling activities in the country. It is one of the most recent entrants, as the popularization of online betting made betting on football prevalent in Thai society.
Still, if you can’t resist betting on sports, you can access offshore sportsbooks and bet on football on the down-low, but you should be aware that you could get fined just the same as if you were playing poker.
However, many Thai run with the odds and do so without running into any trouble. The most important thing to be sure of is that you pick a licensed betting site that accepts Thai players.
Can We Expect Any Changes Soon?
Thailand’s Gambling Act of 1935 has remained unchanged for too long and is quite obsolete, most notably because it doesn’t cover any online gambling activities.
Plus, with many casinos and poker rooms popping up in the region, it shouldn’t be surprising if the Thai government decides to change its stance towards legalized gambling venues.
No visible changes have happened over the past decade, and the government still tries to censor all gambling games, poker included.
But, since the internet is almost impossible to control, Thai players can still sign up and enjoy poker in many different offshore casino sites and poker platforms to play games like poker, roulette, blackjack, and much more.