Get tough on footy betting

Get tough on footy betting

As the World Cup 2022 kicked off in an air-conditioned Qatar stadium on Sunday, so did football betting across Thailand -- which, despite being illegal, has unfortunately become a part of the country's football culture.

Despite the economic malaise, last year about four million Thais spent over 180 million baht on online gambling, most of which was spent on football betting, according to Thanakorn Komkrit, secretary-general of the Stop Gambling Foundation.

With the World Cup in full swing, betting is expected to reach new heights. The latest survey carried out by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) estimated the public will spend 75 billion baht as the matches take place between Nov 20 and Dec 18. That said, the survey found only 18 billion baht of this would be spent on venues, food and beverages, advertising, and multimedia appliances. The rest, approximately 57 billion baht, would be spent on football bets, both online and offline. While this figure is marginally better than the one reported for World Cup 2018 -- when Thais spent about 60 billion baht on football bets -- it still means while the average consumer will spend 1,920 baht on Cup-related expenses, the average gambler is expected to splurge 21,580 baht on Cup-related bets.

According to the Stop Gambling Foundation, about one million people are expected to become first-time gamblers during the World Cup, about a quarter of whom will bet on matches after the tournament ends. Young children are at risk from increased exposure to betting too. Researchers from Chulalongkorn University found in 2018 that children as young as seven were betting on World Cup 2018 games.

The government along with the police need to mount an all-out effort to tackle the problem, especially considering the effects gambling has on crime rates, household debts, and psychological well-being.

The Royal Thai Police and the Digital Economy and Society Ministry had earlier in the year promised to crack down on gambling, with the DES Ministry touting the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to target online betting sites. National police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapas also set up a task force to deal with the problem, deploying officers specifically to monitor betting in and around entertainment venues and universities.

He recently announced that the police will use money-laundering laws to prosecute bookies. That will be a herculean task, as most bookies have moved online thanks to the internet. Most operate with servers based overseas, which makes it harder for law enforcement officers to track them down and make any arrests.

The DES Ministry's AI algorithm, meanwhile, is still far from perfect. While many online betting sites were shut down yesterday, some managed to remain online using proxy networks.

The question here is not how fast online gambling websites can be closed down, but how serious authorities are in their war against football betting. Authorities have launched similar crackdowns since World Cup 2014 without much success. The police have amassed huge piles of information on money trails and bookies' identities, yet the same people keep reappearing running similar schemes.

How can they survive and thrive despite repeated crackdowns, both online and offline? Many observers have pointed to corruption within the force as the real root of the problem. Whatever the reason is, with experience and better technology in their hands, the police cannot afford to lose the war on football betting again.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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