Rolling the dice in Thailand

Renowned novelist Christopher Moore has written with his usual insight on illegal gambling in Thailand. The longtime chronicler of Thailand notes the king-sized hypocrisy of police denying the existence of illegal gambling despite estimates of up to 1 million illegal gambling establishments in Thailand and, more to the point, bribes to police in connection with illegal betting of up to 8 billion baht ($275 million).

Moore suggests legalization of the estimated $12 billion underground industry, along with education on mathematical probabilities to counter Thai beliefs in luck and spirits tied to gambling. “Probability will teach children that there is no luck, no belief system or supernatural force that will intervene on your behalf in gambling,” Moore, perhaps best known for his Vincent Calvino crime novels and Land of Smiles Trilogy that all draw heavily on his understanding of Thai history and culture, says.

I interviewed Moore and several other knowledge sources for a report on prospects for casino legalization in Thailand in the February issue of Macau Business. International gaming companies have long salivated over the prospects of bringing casinos to Thailand. The combination of Thailand’s gambling-keen population of 65 million and more than 15 million foreign visitors make it the juiciest plum in Southeast Asia currently without legal casinos. But political and religious opposition have so far trumped the commercial opportunity. Groups that benefit from illegal gambling, including corrupt politicians and police, also oppose legalization. There’s also fear among some in the tourism industry that gambling could diminish Thailand’s appeal to visitors.

After the Thai general election in July, I wrote about whether the return of allies of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a supporter of gambling legalization, will help bring casinos to Thailand. Yingluck Shinawatra and her Phue Thai party have the difficult task of healing the rifts in Thai politics that widened after last year’s Thaksin loyalist Red Shirt occupation of Bangkok and subsequent crackdown that left 91 dead.

Christopher Moore says it’s time to get practical and make gambling legal. But the odds remain stacked against it until Thais find common ground on less divisive issues.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. See his biography, online archive and more at

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