Police in Thailand announced over the weekend that they had arrested seven women in a raid in Phuket due to illegal gambling.
Thai police are known to be particularly heavy handed on the issue, driven by a government determined to crack down on illegal operations.
Gambling in Thailand is heavily regulated and aside from government-sponsored lotteries and betting on horse racing, it is banned in the country.
Online slots gambling
Police officers arrested the women during a raid on a house in Rassada, near Phuket. Following a tip-off regarding activity at the house, they placed the property under surveillance. Officers began the operation when one of the seven women came out of the house and appeared to run back inside when she saw the police presence.
Once inside, the team seized 26 pieces of evidence, including computers, and noted that the women had reportedly been running an online slots gambling operation. Online gambling is illegal in Thailand, but there are a large number of underground gambling set ups such as this that operate out of the state.
All seven women have been charged with operating an illegal gambling scheme, according to the police, who have not given any more details about the raid or those arrested. This latest operation comes after a string of crackdowns, one of which recently uncovered an illegal online casino.
Earlier in October, law enforcement officers arrested 11 people in Bangkok after illegal gambling site slott555 was shut down. The authorities have since confirmed that multiple illegal sites were operating from the same server, but slot555 was the main source of funds, with more than 10,000 customers registered on the site, who are thought to have lost the equivalent of $3.2m to rigged casino games on the site.
World Cup gambling arrests
Earlier this year the authorities carried out a major crackdown on illegal betting operations before and during the World Cup. In just two weeks, police arrested 6,500 people in relation to illegal gambling. Of that number, 250 were found to have been involved in illegal sports betting operations.
Football is extremely popular in Thailand, which is thought to have contributed to the massive surge in illegal betting during the tournament. The widespread participation in illegal gambling was expected by the police, who joined forces with the military to clamp down on betting and gambling during the busy period.
There were talks at the time of turning the temporary anti-gambling center into a permanent fixture, but it is unclear if this will go ahead. The authorities stated that one of their main concerns about participation in illegal betting is that it is often linked to wider criminal activity such as drug trafficking and robbery.
The World Cup was also affected by an advertising scandal when social media star Jessie Vard was arrested for promoting sports betting in Thailand. Models were reportedly paid up to $11,500 per month for promoting sports betting in the run up to and during the World Cup.
Miss Vard later apologized for her involvement in the scheme. She was sentenced to a month in prison and was issued with a fine.
Smartphones fueling the rise
According to reports released by Chulalongkorn University, around 2.5m Thais are involved in illegal betting, of which 600,000 are believed to be aged between 15 and 25 years old. It is believed access to the sites has been facilitated with the rise of smartphones.
This means that the Thai authorities are dealing with illegal gambling on a large scale and while there are regular arrests relating to these operations, it seems punters prefer to take the risk of playing online than use the country’s legal outlets such as lotteries or betting on horse racing.
Some might say that this could be the perfect catalyst for legalizing sports betting more widely in order to increase the country’s ability to regulate the issue. But as of now there has been no suggestion by the government that this might be in the pipeline.