Place your bets... now

There have been several efforts over the years to introduce new forms of legalised gambling, otherwise known as the lottery. Officially we have the government lottery and the Government Savings Bank lottery.

But don't get me started on the underground lottery. I don't know anything about it. Since it's underground, it doesn't exist, despite the fact that about 20 million Thai people gamble on the underground lottery, according to figures from the Centre for Gambling Studies.

Most recently, a new lottery project is being touted _ the Lotto. Like the Nong Ngu Hao airport, it seems to have died a few deaths over the years, only to be revived and dusted off and repackaged and presented for consideration. Already lottery vendors are up in arms about this new vending machine where you can insert your 20 baht, 50 baht or 100 baht notes, push a button and get your monthly dose of wagering, much like a soft-drink dispenser.

It's not surprising, since the lottery is such a money making activity for so many people, from the government, all the way down the line to the blind vendors with their mobile stalls who usually add on another 10 baht per ticket to the published price, which everyone seems to be willing to pay anyway.

Thais are notorious gamblers. Just take a look at the numerous gambling dens that our irreverent Mr Chuvit has uncovered for us over the past few years, and which our men in brown persist in denying existence of. "There's nothing there," they say after their raid a few days after Mr Chuvit's disclosure.

Thais will bet on anything, from the regular football results _ don't you wonder why Mr Newin Chidchob recently announced he would give up politics to concentrate on his football club? _ to the more bizarre image of a snake supposedly probing its head into the mouth of a gekko to eat its innards. Stunned villagers quickly noted the house number where the hapless gekko resided and raced to the friendly neighbourhood underground lottery lady to place their bets.

Anything that appears out of the ordinary will immediately draw crowds of eager betters hoping for a sign or a number. A disfigured calf, a two-headed fish, a papaya in the shape of an animal, a cat with strange markings, are all bound to be covered with talcum powder and rubbed until a faint number appears. If you rub anything hard enough, marks will certainly appear, most certainly bruises if nothing else.

Monks and shamans around the country attract merit-makers near the time of the lottery, especially those who have a penchant for delivering lucky numbers. And if someone gets lucky, it just serves to heighten the powers of that particular monk or shaman. The temple earns much by way of donations, the monk gains lots of followers, and the faithful close their eyes and deliver their prayers while they pay their dues. It keeps everyone happy.

My previous housekeeper _ the one who enjoyed her booze as much as her bets _ would walk around in a daze as lottery day drew near. She would try to remember her dreams, and interpret them as best she could.

But lucky numbers aren't that straightforward. You might have to add one or subtract one depending on whether you are male or female, and the sequence of two or three numbers could be either way.

Websites are dedicated to this form of numerology: nine is for anything about royals or elders, four or zero is to do with death. Large snakes are five, while small snakes are six, chingchoks and gekkos are seven, and chickens and rats are one. Water is two, while boats are five.

It's mind-boggling. No wonder my housekeeper was constantly dazed.

It is said that Thais will bet on anything and everything.

Yet why is it that the idea of opening a legal casino is considered destructive to social sanctity, set to ruin the morals of our fine population? Is there a teensy weensy bit of hypocrisy here? Budget airlines are doing brisk business taking Thai tourists to Macau for the weekend. I'm sure they're there just for the Ruins of St Paul's.

And someone is making good money at the casinos across the Thai-Cambodian border. A few Thai politicians on the run have made their homes there it seems. Do you think they could have anything to do with these casinos? Couldn't be... or could it?

Wanna bet?

Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the features editor of the Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Usnisa Sukhsvasti
Position: Features Editor