Fears stoked of gambling 'epidemic'
Online betting 'puts more youths at risk'
Academics have expressed concern that new technology may hinder efforts to regulate illegal betting and to keep young people away from the habit.
Speaking at a seminar on gambling addiction last week, Tham Chuesathapanasiri, a specialist from the National Institute for Child and Family Development at Mahidol University, said the gambling industry has changed since the advent of online gaming.
Legalising casinos to prevent illegal gambling may no longer be relevant in an era where the internet and smart devices have brought betting to people's fingertips, he said.
Meanwhile, digital currencies and blockchain technology look set to transform the gambling industry and their use could make it more difficult for authorities to trace financial transactions, some of which may be made by criminals to launder their ill-gotten gains from other crimes.
"Blockchain technology could undermine scrutiny as transactions can't be seen and examined. It's the same with cryptocurrencies. They are hard to trace when used for betting," he said.
"Old-fashioned gambling dens will lose customers to a generation of younger gamblers," he told the seminar hosted by Chulalongkorn University's Centre of Gambling Studies, the Stop Gambling Foundation and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA).
Nongnuch Yaemwong, from Srinakharinwirot University's faculty of medicine, shared her experiences of running a pilot scheme to screen gambling addicts and give them assistance.
She said it took about three months to gain their trust as the activity was illegal and involved local influential figures while consultations and behavioural change took another six months.
Gamblers will hide their habit until it all falls apart, she said, adding that it is important to help them realise they have a problem and provide proper assistance.
She also noted that gambling addiction is also found among the elderly and many participate online and rack up up substantial debts.
During the seminar, Gem, an 18-year-old former gambling addict, said he started with online football, and was quickly placing bets of up to 5,000 baht on single fixtures. The more he wanted to recoup his losses, the less he was able to control his habit.
"The day came when I decided to quit. I realised I couldn't beat them [the odds]."
Dr Mathurada Suwannapho, director of Srithanya Hospital, said Gem was lucky to have quit early.
She said the Public Health Ministry has recently opened a mental health clinic that also provides assistance to people with addiction problems.
Assoc Prof Nuannoi Trirat, director of the Centre of Gambling Studies, touched on a proposal to set up legal casino-entertainment complexes to lure tourists.
"If casinos are legalised for economic reasons, the next question is how to tackle related problems," she said.
"Moreover, the Gambling Act is outdated. A lot has changed."