In a bold move to increase tax revenue for the betterment of society, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Somsak Thepsuthin, (in photo above), has called for the legalization of additional forms of gambling, particularly football betting. The proposal comes in the wake of recent arrests related to online gambling, as Thepsuthin, who oversees the Justice Ministry, made his case at Government House.
He said that legalizing gambling could be a positive step forward rather than a detriment.
Push for legalization will boost tax revenue
Thepsuthin highlighted the potential benefits of such a move, stating, “It would be beneficial because online gambling involves huge amounts of money. If it were spent to help people with disabilities, elderly individuals, and underprivileged children, it would go to good use.”
The current laws in Thailand permit gambling on specific activities, such as fighting cocks and bulls, while prohibiting betting on others, like football. This has resulted in a missed opportunity for both the state and citizen to benefit from taxation. The Deputy Prime Minister urged a change in this approach, noting, “The state and the people do not benefit from taxation. If these were taxed like other gambling activities the Interior Ministry has licensed, it would be good.”
Supporting vulnerable communities
One of the catalysts for this call to action was the recent FIFA World Cup, during which over 1,700 individuals from Thailand were arrested for gambling-related offenses. The crackdown on online gambling has continued, with the Digital Economy and Society Minister, Prasert Chantararuangthong, reporting significant measures taken by the government.
Chantararuangthong shared, “Our ministry has already closed around 4,400 gambling websites this year, and the police have taken legal action on 6,000 online gambling cases.” This vigorous approach underscores the government’s commitment to addressing illegal gambling activities and ensuring the orderly regulation of the industry.
As discussions about the potential legalization of football betting and other forms of gambling continue to evolve, the Deputy Prime Minister’s proposal represents a significant shift in policy direction, aiming to harness the financial potential of gambling for the greater good of Thai society.
Thailand Takes Lead in iGaming Market Over Malaysia
Thailand has emerged as a frontrunner in the iGaming sector, outpacing neighboring Malaysia. Boasting a population of 70 million, 54 million internet users, and 52 million smartphone owners, Thailand offers a fertile landscape for iGaming enthusiasts.
However, the country’s stringent gambling laws, dating back to the Gambling Act of 1935, have traditionally prohibited most forms of betting, with exceptions for the national lottery and horse racing. Despite these restrictions, the underground gambling industry thrives. Recently, the House of Representatives approved a bill for the establishment of resorts across Thailand, featuring luxurious hotels, casinos, amusement parks, sports stadiums, and zoos. While this move doesn’t legalize gambling outright, it reflects the government’s recognition of its economic potential, with estimates suggesting that 70 percent of adults regularly engage in gambling, generating around US $5.5 billion in annual revenue.
Thailand has mirrored global gaming trends, with online gaming genres like battle royale and match formats gaining significant popularity due to increased internet penetration and smartphone ownership, along with the rollout of 5G coverage. Streaming quality improvements have allowed Thai consumers to engage with online gaming streams on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube Live, and Facebook gaming.
Thailand ranks second only to Indonesia in Southeast Asia’s gaming market, supported by initiatives like the DEPA Game Accelerator Program. The country has also seen the transformation of console and PC games into mobile versions, alongside the popularity of titles like Garena RoV, Garena Free Fire, Roblox, and PUBG Mobile. Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, including League of Legends, have contributed to the rise of the battle royale genre.
Despite online gambling’s illegal status, it remains immensely popular in Thailand. In 2020, the government launched a campaign against online casinos, collaborating with state agencies to shut down nearly 190 online sites, primarily casinos. This crackdown comes despite the fact that over 80 percent of survey respondents expressed support for legal casinos and entertainment options.
Despite cultural reservations—90 percent of Thais practice Buddhism, which views gambling as one of four vices leading to ruin—online gaming has become an essential form of entertainment for many Thais. Thai video gamers are estimated to generate over US $1.24 billion in annual revenue, with a significant portion derived from gaming. Popular titles include RoV: Arena of Valor, and online casino games, particularly those in the Siamese language. Notable games produced by Thai companies include Earth Atlantis, Timelie, and Home Sweet Home.
Diverse betting in Thailand, from Esports to more unusual sports
While Thailand’s gaming scene continues to thrive, it encompasses a wide array of betting opportunities, extending beyond the digital realm. Esports, in particular, has witnessed substantial growth, with significant investments pouring into the sector. Tencent’s prediction of esports revenue surpassing US $72.5 million next year, with a remarkable CAGR of over 20 percent, underscores the sector’s potential.
Esports in Thailand enjoys official recognition as a professional sport, supported by bodies like the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) and the Thailand E-Sports Federation (TESF). The government actively collaborates with TESF on initiatives to promote esports, aiming to make Thailand a prime destination for major gaming events. Projections indicate that esports revenue in Thailand will reach US $6.7 million in 2023, with a CAGR of 11.9 percent through 2027.
Thailand ranks 16th globally in esports, with a rising number of players and a growing average revenue per user (ARPU). Notably, Thai gamers, typically aged 18 to 25, have disposable income to invest in esports and show a strong interest in betting, particularly on popular titles like Call of Duty, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and more.
Beyond esports, Thailand’s betting landscape includes unconventional options such as cockfighting, bullfighting, and even fish fighting. These sports, though unusual, attract significant spectatorship and betting. Recent easing of restrictions on animal competitions, halted due to Covid-19, aims to preserve local heritage and generate community revenue.
While online gambling in Thailand is technically illegal, its popularity continues to grow. Badminton, of all sports, garners substantial attention from bettors. Offshore betting sites cater to Thai customers, facilitating transactions in local currency. Additionally, fantasy league football and cyber sports like hockey, cricket, and golf draw in betting enthusiasts.
Regulating and legalizing these diverse betting options in collaboration with the government could provide safer avenues for bettors and foster responsible gaming practices, thus concluding the comprehensive exploration of Thailand’s multifaceted gaming industry.