Gamblers gear up for Cup
Football wagers likely to boost economy by billions of baht, despite police crackdowns.
With the Fifa World Cup 2018 in Russia set to kick off today, hype among football enthusiasts is running high, but so too is enthusiasm among gamblers who plan to bet on the matches.
A 21-year-old source identified as "K" said he has been saving money for the big event, taking extra jobs to boost his income so he can wager on the games. He plans to place bets of 5,000-20,000 baht each time.
Betting syndicates generate billions of baht each year, boosted by an alarming trend in which gambling is appealing to younger people every year. Football betting is also more easily accessible due to the ubiquity of online betting sites, says the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.
In 2015-2016, there were 213,000 online gambling sites dedicated to football betting and this number is on the rise, according to the foundation. The government has introduced campaigns to deter young gamblers, and police have launched crackdowns. Ahead of the opening match tonight, police said they plan to summon and charge around 100 celebrities and online beauty presenters for allegedly promoting football gambling websites.
They have also warned parents to pay more attention to what their children are up to during the tournament, which runs until July 15. Police are also tracking down websites based in Thailand offering football gambling services.
A total of 722 people were arrested between May 1 and yesterday for involvement in football gambling. Of this number, five were providers of services, 715 were gamblers and two worked for the service providers handling customers for them.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Economic and Business Forecasting at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce estimated that at least 78.3 billion baht extra will circulate in the country's economy during the World Cup, 60 billion of which will be due to undocumented transactions and gambling.
The gambling problem is huge, even outside World Cup time. The Centre for Gambling Studies, Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University, estimates that in 2017, 4.6% or 2.476 million Thais participated in football betting, a 24.3% increase on 2015. Of this, 609,000 were youngsters aged 15-25.
Gambler K's preferred platform for betting is Sbobet, which he contacts via the Line app. Sbobet is an international online bookmaker with operations in Asia licensed by the Philippines, and thought to be one of the most popular bookmakers in Thailand. Such bookmakers might be temporary proxies which close after each match or after each round of betting ends, a source said.
"P", a former gambler, 26, who stopped gambling six years ago, said he was introduced to the world of football betting when he was a freshman in college. He overheard the story of a friend who won a large bet. He decided to have a flutter through his friend's bookmaker.
P tried not to place excessive bets, wagering 100-200 baht each time, as he was young and wasn't making much of an income. "Most of the time I won. But when I lost, I felt the impulse to double the wager to offset my loss," he said.
However, he brought his gambling splurge to a stop when he heard about a friend who lost 20,000 baht to football betting and had to approach his mother to pay off his debt.
"I didn't want to become like him. I didn't want to run the risk of becoming an addict and disappointing my mother," he said.
While the government and anti-gambling campaigners argue gambling can lead to social problems, gambler K said the anti-gambling campaigns they run rarely affect his decision to bet.
"All the money I spend on betting is money I have acquired from my own work. So I do not feel bad if I lose it, as it is not money that I owe anyone." Even though he admits he loses more money than he wins, he does not regret gambling.
"I see gambling strictly as an entertainment, not a source of income. If I win, I see it only as extra pocket money," he said, adding he started gambling when he got his first job during his college years and he spends around 80% of his winnings on laying new bets.
Back to former gambler P, he said that since authorities will never put a stop to gambling entirely, they should devise a means to educate people in financial literacy and to gamble within their means. He also suggested the government regulate gambling and collect taxes on it.
Amid the gambling hype, many football fans are looking forward simply to watching the games. Jirawat Areejitsakul, 25, said he's looking forward to games involving top-tier teams.
Meanwhile, Thanachoke Aphikawinwong, a 21-year-old maths tutor, said the World Cup is a special opportunity to catch up with friends.