More than 1 000 people have been arrested in Thailand for gambling on Euro 2008 football matches, local police revealed this week, disclosing that $30 000 had been confiscated.
The sums involved are miniscule compared with estimates by research company Kasikom, which estimated that Thai gamblers would bet $1.2 billion on the three week, Euro2008 football championships just ended, up 24 percent on the numbers from Euro 2004.
Police spokesman, Major General Ruangsak Jaritake told the Economic Times that the 1 098 people arrested included 192 bookies, 831 punters and 75 others. "We seized 931,496 baht ($30 000) and betting slips worth 524.2 million baht ($15.7 million)," he added. "We are satisfied with our arrests although we cannot arrest everybody. We focus on preventive measures."
The police officer said that further investigations would lead to the prosecution of the biggest gambling operators under anti-laundering laws.
Police have set up a special task force to monitor major gambling criminals nationwide. Under the kingdom's 73-year-old gambling law, players can be fined 1 000 baht or jailed for up to one year.
Many Thais get around the ban by heading to neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar where casinos dot the border. Under-the-table wagers are also widely placed on sports in a country where the English Premier League and international football are followed with a passion.
In March, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej introduced proposals to build five casinos in the tourist hotspots of Phuket, Pattaya, Khon Kaen, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai. But the move prompted a backlash from social conservatives in this devoutly Buddhist country, and the plans are on hold.