The UEFA Euro 2016 soccer championship is fueling a spike in gambling among Thai youth, despite police crackdowns, with an increasing portion of bets being placed online, according to new research.
A joint survey conducted by Chulalongkorn University’s Centre for Gaming Studies together with the Research Centre for Social and Business Development found that more than 16 percent of Thai youth in major provinces were planning to bet on the championships, which kicked off in France on June 10th and will run through to July 10th.
The research centre’s director, Thana Hapipat, said the trend towards an increase in football betting was buoyed by greater use of social media and smartphones to lodge bets. “Young people now can play by way of many, many channels,” Thana told AGB.
Thana said the ease of access to social media and the internet was driving the trend. “[Social media] is a great influence on young people. The amount of betting by the youth on social media has increased by about five percent since the World Cup in 2006.”
“For the World Cup a decade ago online betting accounted for just 2 to 3 percent of all bets. Nowadays, that has risen to around 18 percent during the present Euro Cup,” he said, noting the majority of wagers are still being placed through bookmakers or through a group.
“Football gambling is a better way to get money than other forms of gambling such as playing cards. The gambler can play anywhere, anytime, you just need to have a mobile phone,” he said.
No perceived risk
Thanakorn Komkris, director of the non-government organization, Stop Gambling Network, says based on the survey as many as one million Thai youth will be betting on the Euro Football Championship.
“This number makes us very concerned for the Thai youth. They are confident that to bet on football is not a bad thing especially for a team they already support,” Thanakorn told AGB.
The survey covered more than 3,800 high school and vocational school students up to age 19. Some 67 percent of respondents said they felt that betting on football, despite being banned in Thailand, was not risky behaviour, adding it required knowledge and analysis.
Also more than 45 percent said that placing a bet on their favored team was a way to show support.
The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents were unaware of “stop gambling” campaigns and had also not been asked to refrain from gambling.
Thai police have been promoting campaigns calling on people to avoid football gambling and calling on the general public to alert authorities to evidence of betting taking place.
Earlier this week, Thai police arrested more than 1,000 suspected gamblers and bookmakers during raids targeting Euro 2016 betting.
But Thana says the government officials involved in the campaign have been inconsistent towards the crackdown. “We should make [combatting football gambling] important throughout the year, not just at a tournament,” he said.
There also appeared to be ambivalence in society in general to support any moves to suppress football gambling. “These are all the reasons making sure there is still football betting in Thailand, especially for the youth,” he said.
Thai Deputy National Police chief Pongsapat Pongcharoen is chair of an anti-gambling police centre launched ahead of the Euro 2016 tournament. Anti-gambling organizations have led a campaign of public safety for people to “refrain from football gambling”.
Some 60 percent of those surveyed said they would be spending less than 500 baht -- about US$15 – on a match while nine percent said they would be spending between 3,000 and 5,000 baht [$88 to $145].
Across Asia as a whole, total turnover from betting on the tournament is estimated by industry insiders at about 45 billion euros ($51 billion). The final match alone is expected to attract $1.85 billion euros, with the match average seen at 0.74 billion euros.
Nualnoi Treerat, an economist with Chulalongkorn University’s Center for Gaming Studies, said the survey also noted that 30 percent of the youth gamble on the Euro football championships with the hope of winning money.
However a further 30 percent were also gambling in order to make up for losses incurred from betting on the English Premier League. Leicester City, which is owned by a Thai businessman, earlier this year won the Premier League title sparking a football frenzy in the Southeast Asian country.
Nualnoi said that with the Euro 2016 competition still in its early days, Thai police had managed to swoop down on more than 1,028 instances of betting, uncovering over 1.57 million baht (US$33,062) as well as 22 bank accounts containing 10.05 billion baht.
But she said most gamers were not concerned about the crackdown. “The [Thai] youth will listen to their parents, teachers but not the law because they want to challenge everything,” she said.
However, academics are concerned that football betting will spread to other types of gambling.
Thailand has faced a long period of debate over whether gambling should be legalized or not. Currently, official gambling is limited largely to the state lottery and horse racing, although studies have estimated some 70 per cent of adults gamble on a regular basis.
Debate has increased in recent years over moves to legalize casinos, with several major underground casinos operating both in Bangkok and regionally. But raids on the illegal casinos continue, often implicating local Thai police offering protection.
Research Center’s Thana says that education of the youth is a way to combat illegal betting.
“The way to stop first is that we have to change young people’s attitudes about gambling because many young people have a positive view towards gambling,” Thana told AGB.
The analysts said the main point was that almost 60 percent of respondents had not heard about the “Stop” campaign or the move to prevent youth from betting on football.
Researchers also point to increasing betting interest on the Thai Premier League which has grown in recent years due to greater investment and development of the league’s competition and fan base.
“The Thai Premier League – from this survey has come only second to the English Premier League in betting interest,” said Chulalongkorn’s Nualnoi.
“In the past, generally we did not have much information about the Thai Premier League betting,” she said. “It’s an industry – more and more money and investment – and I look at it as an industry – it is growing. And that is why the gambling [on the Thai Premier League] is going to grow,” she said.
A former manager of the Thai national football team recently warned the professional game in Thailand has been marked by players co-conspiring to affect the outcome of games.
But Thavatchai Sajakul, 73, who remains an active member of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), says corruption within the game – both by referees and by individual players is limited.
"I would say, you cannot say it’s dirty; it’s too much. Maybe it is not that clean – I would say this word,” Thavatchai said, who oversaw the national team in the 1990s.
He told AGB that corruption and questionable decisions tend to be “indirect”, linked with affecting games and in turn placements in the league tables.
“I would say we are up to 80 percent football is good, but not 100 percent, I don’t believe it,” he said, adding the other 20 percent is maybe ‘friendly control’ where teams agree to manipulate outcomes, but ‘outright payments’ were very difficult.
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