Rethink how we tackle gambling
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Rethink how we tackle gambling

Addiction to gambling -- a quiet, subtle affliction -- has long been a festering issue in Thailand. In pursuit of a quick fortune, many end up trapped in the vicious grip of gambling. Despite strict laws, gambling remains a rampant problem affecting multiple facets of society.

Some common outcomes of gambling addiction include individuals ending up with little to no savings, bankruptcy, family disruptions in the form of marital issues and child neglect and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

But gambling can also lead to more sinister results, in the form of petty theft, fraud and even violent crime as evidenced by the recent cyanide murder spree. As police continue to investigate Sararat "Am" Rangsiwuthaporn, who is facing 14 murder charges for allegedly poisoning her victims, they've uncovered a severe gambling addiction that may have driven her to commit such horrendous crimes.

Investigators have learned that 78 million baht passed through her account, and at times she had lost up to 1 million baht per day from gambling, prompting her desperate search for money. All her victims had transferred large sums of money to her before meeting their untimely end.

The 1935 Gambling Act serves as the central piece of legislation regulating gambling in the country and is rooted in Buddhist values. It defines gambling as any game or activity in which the outcome is determined by chance and involves wagering or betting. This covers a wide range of activities, including card games, dice games, slot machines, online gambling and most forms of betting. Punishment for those found participating or organising gambling activities can include fines and imprisonment depending on the severity of the crime.

The government has enjoyed mild success in enforcing this law by prohibiting most types of gambling, except for the state-run lottery and horse racing in Bangkok as well as some animal fighting such as cock fighting and fish fighting. Yet the dark underbelly of gambling continues to thrive due to several obstacles that have proved too difficult to overcome. The first is an ingrained culture of gambling, which is often viewed as a social activity, making it hard to prevent people from believing in its dangers. Second, the presence of illegal gambling dens, which often operate around the clock, right under the nose of the law, makes it hard to prevent people from gambling.

In fact, the government's prohibitive measures have exacerbated the problem. By pushing gamblers to underground dens, they've created a platform that allows people to gamble without any legal rights or protections. This creates an environment where people with addiction and mounting debt might see no other way out except for taking extreme actions. So what can be done?

A more comprehensive approach is needed. First, the government must intensify its efforts to uproot illegal gambling dens which often operate with impunity. Effective law enforcement is crucial in dismantling these networks that fuel gambling addictions. Second, there must be a shift in how gambling is viewed.

Rather than see it as a moral failing or a legal issue, it should be considered a public health crisis that requires more robust health-based interventions, such as the widespread availability of counselling and rehabilitation services for those grappling with a gambling addiction.

Third, investment in public awareness campaigns highlighting the consequences of gambling and support programmes for those afflicted by gambling are much needed. The government has yet to create an outlet to provide help -- such as mental counselling or even solving family issues for gamblers and their family members.

Last but not least, it's also important to reconsider the current prohibitive approach towards gambling. The Gambling Act fails to actually prevent gambling. Recently, the government has become more open to the idea of allowing casinos to operate in special entertainment complexes to draw tourism and compete with regional destinations. While lawmakers have only approved an initial report on the idea, and implementation may be years away, it's a welcome change in attitude to find practical measures and safeguards, instead of imposing blanket bans on the practice of gambling.

The tragedy of the cyanide murders is truly shocking, but we must not dismiss it as a lone act of one unstable person. We need to understand what factors contributed to her decisions and rethink whether the gambling policies are causing more harm than good. Rigorous law enforcement and empathetic, health-focused interventions are the first step in dismantling gambling addictions, but it's only by bringing the activity into the light that it will be possible to implement safeguards, offer assistance to those at risk, and deter this dangerous shift towards criminal activities.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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