Thai universities are increasingly concerned about the growing trend of students addicted to gambling and borrowing money from state education loans to support their gaming habits.
University academics are urging officials to tackle the issue, especially student access to online websites through smartphones, calling on cellphone operators to block gambling websites.
Gambling is illegal in Thailand apart from through the state-run lottery and on horse racing through the Royal Bangkok Turf Club. However, betting remains highly popular, with the underground market estimated to dwarf that of legal channels.
To gauge the extent of the problem, several universities have recently undertaken surveys of student gaming habits, including Bangkok-based Ramkhamhaeng University and Dhurakij Pundit University. The findings of widespread gambling practices among the nation's youth is likely to make it even more difficult for those pushing for greater liberalization.
Dhurakij Pundit University Peace Centre lecturer Atichat Tancharoen, told local media online detection of gambling-addicted students was difficult.
“In an inspection of dorms we found students’ ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) cards were left with the bookmakers because they’d lost in betting,” and had to repay outstanding loans, Atichat said. “Most of the money in ATMs was from Student Loan Fund (SLF) loans.”
One report cited a female student who spent all her student loan funds on football gambling and was then forced to drop out of school as she was unable to meet tuition fees. Other students faced charges of theft after being caught stealing valuables from dormitory rooms to fund their gambling habit.
Universities have sought to crackdown on the gambling habits, including efforts to control the sale of alcohol and taking disciplinary action against students caught gambling.
Others took steps to block access to online gambling websites by blocking wi-fi connections. Public Health officials recommended the setting up of anti-gambling networks on campuses, with cooperation from local communities together with the public and private sectors.
The concerns come against a backdrop of a broader gaming survey undertaken by Dhurakij Pundit University, led by economics lecturer, Visanu Vong.
Dhurakij Pundit University found that among students gambling on football there were some 104,261 people with betting limits of about 36,000 baht (US$1,000) per person a year, leading to an outlay of 3.8 billion baht (US$105 million), with students gambling through a bookmaker the largest total. Gaming on football has also expanded through online gaming.
The survey of students found some 354,360 gambled through card games, 156,180 playing bingo games, 143,886 betting on the illegal lottery, with 137,396 gambling on the government’s official lottery.
On a national basis the University’s survey estimated 16,369,217 people played the illegal lottery – centred on the two and three digit underground lottery that is based on the final numbers drawn from the official lottery. Some 15,454,668 were recorded betting on the legal lottery. A further 12,888,291 were estimated to play cards.
Other categories nationally included 3,791,147 involved with betting on cockfighting and fighting fish betting, with 2,389,108 linked to games of dice, and 2,183,636 found to be involved with bingo gaming.
The survey found the highest proportion of gamers live in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces. Among those aged 15-18 years the proportion stood at 37.41 per cent.
The survey found people most active in gambling were those in the lower income category with a monthly income of between 15,000 to 19,999 baht (US$416 - $555). Those earning less than 10,000 baht or US$280 looked to gaming as a way of improving their income.
Young people are often introduced to gaming through betting on cockfights along with games of dice in local communities, together with card games and football gaming. Those who become involved in gaming usually start with cards, while older generations – more than 25 years of age – bet on the national lottery.
Nationally, the purchase of lottery tickets is highly popular in Bangkok, while in the Northern provinces popular forms are the lottery and bingo games. In the South, near the border with Malaysia, gamers also take part in the football betting that is legal in Malaysia.
Students in Bangkok favour football betting, followed by bingo and the lottery as well as cards which is seen as the gateway to other forms of gambling.
They survey divided the groups into two; those who gamble on games for the sake of betting, while the other bet on other forms such as horse races and local boxing matches “due to the enjoyment and the excitement.”
Local sports betting is highly popular and generally follows from one generation to the next.
But the survey also found the reasons why people do not gamble has less to do with local laws prohibiting gambling, but rather as a personal dislike, or that it was seen as a waste of time and money.
In relation to those gambling cards over the past year, the survey estimated that some 13 million people spent an average of 72,000 baht (US$2,000) a year per person or about 9.3 billion baht (US$258 million).
In the category of those playing bingo games, the amount per person was much lower at 3,600 baht (US$100) representing a total for the year of 8.0 billion baht (US$222), with more than half playing at charitable fairs and other similar events.
Finally, an estimated 2.4 million people play games of dice with individuals spending about 60,000 baht ($1,667) leading to an estimated turnover of 1.4 billion baht ($38 million).
The survey discussed the social impacts on individuals from gaming especially in areas of being unable to meet existing debts and the psychological impact from gambling. Others see gaming as an enjoyment and way to relieve stress.
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