Anti-Gambling Crackdown

Euro 2004 anti-gambling crackdown drives thousands of Thais out of country

After Thai police arrested hundreds of football fans for gambling on Euro 2004 matches, more than 10,000 Thais flocked to the Cambodian border town of Poipet to bet on England’s European Championship opener against France late Sunday, The Nation newspaper reported.

Five of eight casinos in Poipet are offering bets on Euro 2004 matches, in addition to the normal games of chance. Many enterprising bookies have also set up makeshift betting stations on the street.

Police spokesman Major General Pongsapat Pongcharoen said 5,619 Thais went to Cambodia through the checkpoint near Poipet before the tournament’s opening match between Portugal and Greece Saturday – an increase of about 1,000 people compared to other Saturdays, the daily wrote.

Pongsapat said border authorities will be keeping close tabs on returning Thais and scrutinising documents and cash they bring back into the country.

Most types of gambling are illegal in Thailand and Thais who are caught face up to a year in prison.

Thai police have arrested more than 500 gamblers and bookmakers in a crackdown on football betting since the start of the Euro 2004 championships, police said Monday.

Law enforcement authorities said they had arrested 51 bookies and 464 gamblers since the Euro 2004 championship kicked off in Portugal, and seized 197,430 baht ($5,800) in cash and about 243 million baht ($5.59 million) in betting slips.

Thai police last week ordered local Internet providers to block access to England-based betting web sites in an effort to stem record gambling expected in the kingdom during the ongoing Euro 2004 football tournament.

“We have asked their cooperation to temporarily block the access to eleven online gambling websites, all of them located in England,” said Pongcharoen.

The blocked sites include Ladbrokes, LiveScore and Sportingbet, he said, with police preparing to extend their investigation to additional sites if needed.

European football is enormously popular in Thailand. During the 2000 tournament, police arrested 260 people for gambling and seized nearly 4 million baht ($98,500).

Football betting is illegal in Thailand, but it is a massive underground industry fuelled by the country’s passion for football and obsession for gambling on anything from kick-boxing to fighting fish.

Respected Thai polling agency Kasikornbank Research Center predicted that $814 million would be wagered by punters during the three-week European championships. The figure represents about 0.5 percent of Thailand’s estimated Gross Domestic Product this year and exceeds the amount wagered during the 2002 World Cup.