In 1935, the Thai Royal Command enacted the Gambling Act (the “Gambling Act”). The Gambling Act prohibits any organization or participation in any form of betting excluding state-licensed lotteries and horse races. Although other Southeast Asian nations, including Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Singapore, have legalized gambling, Thailand continues to criminalize gambling. Thailand’s strict prohibition on gambling is supposed to protect Thai people from the harms of gambling.
But many argue that Thailand’s strict criminalization of gambling, even though well intended, has created greater problems for Thailand. Gambling persists in Thailand despite the Gambling Act. Online betting, pop-up bookmarkers or wagers, and illegal casinos and lotteries are not uncommon. Many persuasively argue that Thailand’s criminalization of gambling has not prevented gambling but has simply driven gambling underground. Illegal gambling has created an informal gray economy worth billions of dollars and, many claim, created opportunities for corruption.
The unintended consequences of Thai prohibitions on gambling have incentivized some Thai lawmakers to proposed reform. Thus far efforts to reform Thai law on gambling have been unsuccessful.
In 2023, Pita Limjarouenrat, leader of the Kao Klai or Move Forward Party, won the election for prime minister. The Move Forward Party has a progressive agenda, aiming to legalize gambling by opening casinos and other gambling establishments. According to a report from Thailand’s special legislative committee report, such casinos could generate 100 billion baht in annual tax revenue. In addition to the economic gains through tax revenue and investments, the casinos will likely increase Thailand tourist industry and soft power.
Although public opinion polls have shown that the Thai public remains skeptical of efforts to reform laws strictly prohibiting gambling, attitudes do change. They have changed in other jurisdictions. And the best measure of a society’s collective intelligence and its prospects for prosperity are its willingness to change. A change-ready mindset knows that change is continuous and sees it as source of opportunity that should be embraced rather than shunned. Will Thailand reform its strict prohibitions on gambling?