Thai Deputy Prime Minister Backs Online Gambling

September 28, 2023
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Thailand’s deputy leader has announced his support for legalisation of online gambling following raids on the homes of senior police accused of running gambling websites.
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Thailand’s deputy leader has announced his support for legalisation of online gambling following raids on the homes of senior police accused of running gambling websites.

Deputy Prime Minister Somsak Thepsutin, told reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday (September 26) that legalisation of online sports betting and possibly other forms of online gambling would boost consolidated revenue.

“Legalising gambling would be beneficial because online gambling involves huge amounts of money,” the Bangkok Post quoted Somsak as saying.

“The government could collect taxes and use that money to help people with disabilities, elderly people and underprivileged children.”

Somsak said he would consider a legalisation proposal to the Cabinet after discussing the issue with policy officials.

"More forms of gambling should be legalised, for example on football,” he said. “As of now, the state and the public do not benefit from [tax revenue].

"If these were taxed like other gambling activities the Interior Ministry has licensed, including bull and cockfighting, it would be good because it would help increase state revenue."

It was not immediately clear if Somsak was referring to online casino games as well as sports betting. Both segments have formidable underground markets in Thailand.

Somsak’s intervention quickly followed a scandal in which the homes of deputy national police chief Surachate Hakparn and eight of his subordinates were raided on suspicion of illegal online gambling activity.

Twenty-three arrest warrants were also issued in the case, including for a police major general, a police colonel and six other officers, leading to searches of 30 homes nationwide.

The Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau has alleged that a number of the police served as administrators or coordinators of gambling websites.

As with the government’s tentative move toward allowing integrated resorts, any move toward liberalisation of online gambling would be a game-changing event for the region given Thailand's population of 72m and intense appetite for gambling products.

Pressure on the Thai government to liberalise gambling has largely been a cyclical political phenomenon, however, and the latest messaging from Somsak needs to be seen in the context of a stabilising political environment following close-fought general elections in May.

Still, recent years have seen the Thai government grappling with mounting internal and external threats to its enforcement capabilities, with Philippines-based licensees and unregulated or illegal online gambling operations in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar targeting Thais and angering officials.

Thai officials have also cooperated with the Myanmar military junta to sever the power supply of online gaming and scam syndicate compounds in border regions.

These compounds have enslaved thousands of Thai nationals among hundreds of thousands of other Southeast Asians and victims further afield, requiring frequent intervention from diplomats and police.

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