Contributed By Formichella & Sritawat
Gambling has remained illegal and restricted in Thailand for decades. Gambling is defined as games of chance wherein the outcome is unknown, and the result may win something of value. The primary gambling law, the Gambling Act 1935 (Buddhist Era 2478) (GBA), was enacted, as entitled, in 1935, making it over 88 years old. Remarkably, this legislation is still in force today. Recognising the necessity to adapt to the swiftly evolving landscape, especially due to notable technological advancements that significantly impact gambling platforms, Thailand has made efforts to reform its gambling laws to address current gambling developments. It should be noted that Thailand has robust e-sports and social gaming that is not considered gambling so long as the players are utilising skills in their performance. Third parties betting on the outcome of contestants utilising their skills would be considered as engaging in gambling under Thai law.
In 2016, a draft Gambling Act (“the Draft GBA”) was proposed by the cabinet to the National Legislative Assembly for consideration, acknowledging the urgency of updating gambling legislation encompassing control measures, inspections, advertising, gambling operations, penalties, and taxes levied on licensed gambling. The proposed draft aimed to align the accounting for gambling transactions with the contemporary scenario.
However, the Draft GBA has been under consideration since 2016. As of a recent update, the Draft GBA completed the public hearing process in December 2022. Throughout the drafting period until now, the situation has been continuously evolving, particularly due to the ongoing development of online gambling, which seems to have no end in sight. It poses a challenge to determine whether the Draft GBA, initiated since 2016, will effectively address current and upcoming advancements in gambling.
While the Draft Act includes additional provisions that extend beyond the GBA in various sections, particularly regarding the definition of gambling, advertising, gambling activities, and higher penalties, it may not sufficiently address the existing and emerging forms of gambling that are prevalent today or anticipated soon, especially regarding online gambling. This is an aspect that both the Thai government and associated agencies are currently considering before formally announcing the implementation of the Draft GBA.
In recent years, while Thailand’s laws have maintained a strict stance of illegality towards gambling, the Thai government has gradually shifted its perspective, recognising the potential benefits of organised gambling, especially within the context of tourism. This change in viewpoint signifies a critical juncture in Thailand’s approach to the gambling industry. Various forms of gambling, such as expansive entertainment complexes and regulated casinos, have the capacity to significantly bolster the country’s revenue streams. Given Thailand’s ongoing efforts to recover from the adverse impact of the COVID-19 crisis, exploring additional revenue sources is imperative for a complete recovery.
In 2021, the Thai government took proactive steps in this direction by establishing a special House Committee to study the feasibility of allowing an entertainment complex for casinos. This committee meticulously studied the feasibility of introducing comprehensive entertainment complexes, legalising and imposing taxes on casino operations, devising strategies to combat illegal gambling practices, addressing the proliferation of electronic gambling machines, and managing the emergence of online gambling platforms.
According to the House Committee, the decision to legalise (or modify the legalisation) of gambling in Thailand is a complex one, necessitating careful deliberation from multiple vantage points, encompassing its socio-economic benefits and repercussions on the populace.
This evolving discourse on gambling legalisation in Thailand holds a prominent position on the nation’s policy landscape, warranting vigilant attention and scrutiny in the foreseeable future. The Thai government must carefully weigh the decision to legalise gambling as a potential means to recover the Thai economy, which has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Thailand, online gambling is not specifically regulated in the GBA, given the law itself was passed in 1935, and there are no other dedicated regulations overseeing it. However, in practice, the authorities refer to the GBA to address online gambling. They deem it an offence under Section 4 and Section 4 Bis of the GBA, as it is not allowed in List A and List B under the GBA. Moreover, there is no ministerial regulation specifically mandating online gambling. Consequently, online gambling is prohibited, encompassing organising, participating in, or gambling in such activities.
The GBA classifies gambling into two main lists:
In practice, the authorities are unlikely to grant licences for online gambling due to the absence of specific regulations that govern all kinds of online gambling. Therefore, betting, bingo, casinos, lotteries (excluding government lotteries), and other activities considered within online gambling, are expressly prohibited under the GBA.
Fantasy sports and social gaming are unlikely to be categorised as gambling by players under the GBA since the players are competing using skills and do not involve gambling for money and are generally allowed without prior permission. However, fantasy sports and social gaming that involve gambling for money by third parties are considered gambling and are prohibited under the GBA.
Moreover, online gambling is deemed an offence under the Computer Crime Act 2007 (the CCA), particularly outlined in Section 20. This section grants authorities the ability to petition the court to block or remove computer data from a computer system if the dissemination of such data would disrupt public order or good morals. Gambling is widely recognised as an offence that compromises public order and good morals in Thailand, justifying its classification offence under the CCA.
However, enforcing the CCA to regulate online gambling is met with significant challenges. Most online gambling hosts operate beyond Thailand’s jurisdiction and outside its authority. The rapid advancement of online gambling technology has consequently rendered the Thai authorities with limited power to exercise control. While authorities can block access from Thailand, the pervasive use of technologies like VPNs allows individuals to bypass these restrictions, preventing Thai authorities from effectively curbing online gambling.
While the GBA does not specifically detail land-based gambling, considering its age and the technological advancements since its inception, it can be inferred that the GBA primarily pertains to land-based gambling. Here’s an overview of various land-based gambling sectors in Thailand.
Betting is partially permitted under the GBA. Most permitted betting involves games such as animal fights or races (eg, bullfighting, cockfighting, fish fighting, and horse racing), which require prior permission and authorisation from the authorities. The approval depends on the discretion of the authority, considering the necessity of the occasion, such as traditional events or approval by the Ministry of Interior. All other forms of betting are generally prohibited.
Bingo is regulated under the GBA as a gambling game in List B, number 15, which requires prior permission and authorisation from the authorities before playing. However, Bingo has restrictions in that prizes cannot be awarded in the form of money. Additionally, awarded prizes cannot be returned, bought back, or exchanged within the premises where the event or play is taking place or in any contiguous area. Therefore, awarding Bingo prizes in the form of money is prohibited and considered illegal.
Casinos are strictly prohibited under the GBA, as they are not regulated within List A and List B of the GBA, as stated in Section 4. Furthermore, there are no specific conditions or regulations for casino gambling specified in ministerial regulations under Section 4 Bis, which would permit such gambling. Hence, casinos are illegal in Thailand.
In Thailand, lotteries are gambling games listed in List B that require prior permission and authorisation from the authorities before organising and playing. However, lotteries are typically operated by the Government Lottery Office (the GLO) under the Government Lottery Office Act 1974, which is the only legally sanctioned form of lottery in Thailand. Other lotteries permitted under the GBA are mostly allowed for specific organisations approved by the Ministry of Interior, such as the Thai Red Cross Society and the Government Savings Bank. There is no record of other commercial lotteries being allowed under the GBA.
Fantasy sports are not regulated in List A or List B of the GBA, and there are no other regulations governing fantasy sports. Fantasy sports are not as popular in Thailand as in Western nations, however, if fantasy sports involve no real money or possessions akin to money, they may not be recognised as gambling and may be allowed. On the other hand, if fantasy sports are considered a form of gambling under the GBA that involve gambling for money or other possessions, they may be considered gambling and not legally permitted in Thailand.
Social gaming typically refers to games where no real money is involved, and as such, it is not considered gambling under the GBA. The games themselves do not typically involve gambling with money or other possessions and are generally allowed. However, if there is a transition into actual gambling involving real money or other real possessions, it may not be allowed.
Poker is categorised as gambling in List A No 11 under the GBA, making it is strictly prohibited and illegal in Thailand.
The key legislation applicable to the gambling sector in Thailand are as follows:
The Gambling Act 1935 (the GBA)
The GBA is the primary law that directly regulates all gambling activities, aiming to suppress and control gambling activities. It contains provisions related to gambling, totalling 17 sections, which outline key aspects as follows:
The Civil and Commercial Code (the CCC) (Gambling and Betting, Sections 853–855)
The compilation of the CCC about gambling has a fundamental principle that gambling does not create debt. In other words, regardless of whether the organising party facilitates gambling or the gambling participant, the winning party cannot demand the losing party to settle a gambling debt. This is because there is no legal basis to support such debt claims.
This provision is enacted to prevent the claiming of assets resulting from continuous gambling. Therefore, any contract or agreement related to gambling is considered void in accordance with the law and cannot be enforced, even in cases where the GBA has permitted gambling.
The Government Lottery Office Act 1974 (the GLOA)
The GLOA is the legislation that specifically governs the government lottery. The government lottery is a form of gambling permissible due to specific legal provisions. The issuance of the government lottery by the Government Lottery Office (GLO) under the GLOA shall be considered a lottery authorised by the government. Debts arising from the issuance of such government lottery may be claimed, which is an exemption from the CCC provision regarding debt from gambling.
The Anti-Money Laundering Act 1999 (the AMLA)
See 8.1 AML Legislation.
The Computer Crime Act 2007 (the CCA)
The CCA is not a provision that directly governs gambling activities. However, in the current circumstances where there is no specific legislation addressing illegal online gambling, the CCA serves as one of the authorities’ tools used to control illegal online gambling. It enables authorities to block access or remove computer data from systems within Thailand’s jurisdiction when the computer data associated with online gambling disrupts public order or good morals under the CCA.
Although the GBA is the primary law regulating gambling activities in Thailand, it does not provide a clear and explicit definition or context for the term “gambling”. However, Section 4 Bis of the GBA indirectly sheds light on the meaning of gambling. It can be derived that gambling encompasses games, including guessing and predicting. This demonstrates that gambling includes games of chance.
Additionally, Section 5 states in relation to gambling that “Whoever organises a game in which it is normal to gamble money or other possessions shall be presumed to have organised it for his own benefit. And any person who plays the game shall also be presumed to have gambled money or other possessions.” This further illustrates that gambling involves playing with the risk of gaining or losing money or assets.
In Thailand, there is no statutory definition of “land-based gambling” under the GBA.
In Thailand, there is no statutory definition of “online gambling” under any law or regulations related to gambling. Furthermore, in practice, online gambling is not legalised.
The GBA imposes key offences and penalties for unlawful gambling as follows.
See 3.5 Key Offences.
The GBA, having been enacted for 88 years, is considered relatively outdated. Its existing offences and associated penalties are viewed as insufficient. Offenders often show little hesitation in committing offences due to lenient punishments. In response, the Thai government has recognised the need for reform and has taken proactive steps by drafting a new Gambling Act to impose more stringent penalties.
This Draft Act introduces crucial provisions that encompass clear definitions of gambling activities and an array of enhanced control measures. These measures include the prohibition of minors from engaging in gambling, specific qualifications for gambling licensees, updates to gambling fees and tax rates, and a revision of the list of gambling games as outlined in the draft.
Although the draft was initially proposed in 2016, progress has been slow over the subsequent years. However, there remains a sense of optimism that the draft will be enacted in the near future. This enactment would signify a significant stride towards rectifying the current inadequacies in the regulation of gambling activities.
According to the GBA, the Minister of Interior holds the responsibility for the provisions of the GBA and has the authority to issue Ministerial Regulations for the following purposes:
Furthermore, the competent officials appointed through Ministerial Regulations are authorised to issue a gambling licence under List B annexed to the GBA, as well as a licence to organise a prize-winning game (game of luck). The competent officials are as follows:
In Thailand, the regulatory approach can be described as prescriptive and prohibitionist, with laws and regulations clearly stipulating the prohibited forms of gambling and their respective penalties. The Thai government’s primary strategy in regulating gambling is prohibition. The GBA delineates a stringent and prohibitive stance towards gambling activities. Most forms of gambling are deemed illegal in Thailand, and those permitted are subject to heavy regulation. The government enforces these laws rigorously. Despite the relatively low penalties specified in the GBA, competent authorities diligently impose severe punishments for gambling-related offences, often integrating with other related laws such as anti-money laundering law or the computer crime law for effective enforcement and penalties.
However, there is no formal risk-based regulation in the sense of systematically assessing the risks associated with gambling activities. Instead, the primary focus is on restricting and prohibiting gambling to mitigate associated social and moral risks.
See 3.7 Recent or Forthcoming Legislative Changes.
Under the GBA, the types of licences applicable to gaming and gambling are restricted to the types of games listed in List B. This list comprises 28 types of games, which are as follows.
The GBA does not impose restrictions on the number of licences that may be granted. Operating licences are readily available, subject to the fulfilment of application criteria for each type of game and the payment of the application fee.
The GBA does not specify the duration of gambling licences. However, it requires all gambling licences to have a specified duration. This duration must be proposed by the applicant and approved by the competent officers. Therefore, the available duration of the licences depends on the approval of the competent officers based on the proposed duration by the applicant on a case-by-case basis.
As of now, the GBA does not have provisions that prescribe specific qualifications or application requirements for the operator, directors, owners, senior management, shareholders, or set thresholds for the applicant company. However, in practice, competent officers may require identification information from the applicant, such as an identification card in the case of an individual or a copy of the company certificate in the case of a company, a map indicating where the gambling activities will be held, and any other necessary documents upon request by the competent officer.
There is no legislation outlining the timescale for licence applications. However, in practice, the duration for the licence application process, from start to completion, usually does not exceed 90 days from the day the complete application is submitted.
The fees for granting gambling licences for various gambling activities as listed in List B of the GBA are determined in accordance with Sections 17 and 18 of Ministerial Regulation No 17 (1960), enacted under the provisions of the GBA. The licence fees for gambling activities listed in List B are as follows.
Fees for licence to organise a prize-winning game (game of luck):
Under the GBA, there are no separate annual fees for gambling licences.
Under the GBA, there are no specific requirements for premises licensing. The GBA only requires that the place where gambling activities will be held is specified in the gambling licence.
There are no notable changes or legislative motions related to the land-based gambling sector.
In Thailand, no such licences are available.
In Thailand, there are no specific licences available for B2B services.
Under the GBA, there is no specific regulation regarding affiliates.
There are no specific licensing or regulatory requirements regarding the use of white-label providers.
There are no notable changes related to online gambling.
See 3.1 Key Legislation under “The Computer Crime Act 2007 (the CCA)”.
In Thailand, there is no legislation or guideline that outlines key responsible gambling requirements.
There have not been any significant recent changes or forthcoming changes to responsible gaming requirements.
See 3.1 Key Legislation.
The primary legislation relevant to anti-money laundering in the gambling sector in Thailand is the Anti-Money Laundering Act 1999 (AMLA). The AMLA is aimed at enforcing actions against money laundering offences and dealing with assets related to acts defined as offences under the AMLA.
Under the AMLA, a “predicate offence” is defined as the underlying offence that generates or provides the funds or assets resulting from the commission of an offence, subject to the application of laws for preventing and combating money laundering.
In the context of gambling, offences related to organising gambling activities without permission, with a total amount of money involved being THB5 million or above, or organising gambling through electronic means (ie, online gambling), are categorised as predicate offences under Section 3 (9) of the AMLA.
The AMLA is primarily enforced against any person who commits the following actions, which are considered offences of money laundering:
Anyone committing a money laundering offence is subject to imprisonment for not less than one year to ten years, or a fine of not less than THB20,000 to THB200,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.
In practice, the AMLA is used in conjunction with the GBA, particularly against online gambling, as it is the only law that specifically addresses online gambling and imposes higher penalties compared to the GBA. Therefore, the AMLA is a key piece of legislation in combating online gambling and illegal gambling activities.
Furthermore, the AMLA has established significant measures to prevent money laundering. These measures include prevention steps by designating financial institutions and professionals as reporting entities and implementing effective asset management measures resulting from criminal acts, aligning with the AMLA.
There are no recent or forthcoming changes on AML legislation which are of relevance to the gambling sector.
Key components of Thailand’s AML requirements include:
In general, the Advertising Committee (AC) under the office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB) regulates consumer protections in the advertising industry through the Consumer Protection Act 1979 (CPA). The CPA primarily governs the context of advertisements for goods or services, ensuring they do not contain statements that are unfair to consumers or may have adverse effects on society. This includes false or exaggerated statements which may cause a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the goods or services, or statements that support the violation of law, morals, or contribute to the cultural depreciation of the nation.
Regarding gambling advertising, such advertising that invites any person to participate in unauthorised gambling is considered an offence and is subject to penalties under the GBA, as mentioned in 3.5 Key Offences. The authority responsible for regulating gambling including advertising gambling, under the GBA, is the Department of Provincial Administration (DOPA), under the Ministry of Interior.
The GBA does not explicitly define “advertising” within its provisions. However, the CPA, as the principal legislation in the advertising industry, provides a definition that can encompass the concept of advertising in Thailand. According to the CPA, “advertise” refers to any act that uses any means to inform the public about a statement for the purpose of trade.
Therefore, in the context of gambling, advertising may be interpreted to encompass any act that informs or makes the public aware of gambling through various means.
The key legal and regulatory provision relevant to advertising within the gambling industry is Section 12 of the GBA, which outlines the offence of advertising unauthorised gambling and prescribes penalties for offenders who violate this provision.
See 9.3 Key Legal, Regulatory and Licensing Provisions.
Infringing upon the advertising provision under the GBA results in criminal penalties. Offenders are liable for imprisonment and fines, as mentioned in 3.5 Key Offences.
See 3.7 Recent or Forthcoming Legislative Changes.
There are no specific disclosure requirements mandated for acquisitions or changes of control within gaming and gambling companies.
As of now, there are no specific provisions that trigger changes of corporate control within gaming and gambling companies.
The GBA does not provide any requirements for passive investors in acquisitions or changes of control regarding gaming and gambling companies.
The powers of enforcement that regulatory bodies typically have regarding unlawful gambling in Thailand are as follows.
Law enforcement authorities in Thailand, including the Department of Provincial Administrative Office and the Thai Police, initiate investigations based on reports or complaints from citizens suspecting illegal actions related to the GBA.
Upon receiving a complaint or suspected report, the authorities commence investigations to identify and apprehend individuals involved in illegal gambling activities. They seek solid evidence to determine the offence committed under the GBA and further investigate other potential offences; eg, gambling advertising or money laundering. After gathering sufficient evidence and confirming the offence, authorities may proceed to extend their investigation. In certain cases, they can confiscate assets related to illegal gambling activities, including seizing money, properties, and other assets linked to gambling operations as evidence for prosecution.
Upon accumulating adequate evidence, the case is forwarded to the public prosecutor to initiate criminal proceedings in court. This allows the court to adjudicate the offence and determine appropriate penalties for the offenders. However, penalties for gambling offences are imposed on offenders under the GBA. Depending on the specific offence, they may face fines, imprisonment, or both.
Currently, instances of online gambling violating the law are on the rise, resulting in increased arrests of website owners over the past year. In a recent case reported in September 2023 by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), action was taken against the owners of an online gambling website involved in money laundering, known as AK47Max. The officers conducted inquiries, gathered evidence, examined financial transactions, and seized assets suspected to have been obtained from illegal gambling activities. Preliminary findings indicated violations related to illegal gambling through electronic means (operating an online gambling website), amounting to over THB70 million. The operation of an online gambling website is a predicate offence that serves as the basis for prosecuting legal action regarding money laundering.
Under the GBA, the only financial penalty enforced is the applicable fine as mentioned in 3.5 Key Offences, which is enforced for all responsible parties.
Potential personal sanctions for the enforcement of the GBA in Thailand:
According to Section 16 and Section 16 Bis of the GBA, it is stipulated that licensees are required to pay taxes for certain types of gambling activities as listed in the Ministerial Regulation. This tax is in addition to the gambling licence fees. The tax rates and fees for issuing licences are set by the Minister of the Interior based on the local conditions. Subsequently, ministerial regulations were enacted to determine the tax rates and fees for gambling activities in compliance with the GBA. The tax on gambling refers to the tax payable by licensees for specific gambling activities as listed in the Ministerial Regulation No 17 (1960) under the provisions of the GBA, as amended by the Ministerial Regulation No 43 (2000). The applicable rates are as follows.
Totalisator of any game:
Bookmaking of any game:
Lottery, raffle, or any game of luck promising money or other benefit to any of the players, sweepstake of any game, and sale of lottery, raffle, or sweepstake tickets which are not issued in Siam, but legally held in the issuing country:
Lottery for charitable purposes, as approved by the Cabinet:
In addition to the aforementioned taxes, licensees for gambling activities are subject to an additional tax of 2.5% of the taxable amount specified in Article 16 paragraph 2 of the GBA, to be allocated to the local administrative organisation where the licensed gambling takes place.
See 1.1 Current Outlook and Recent Changes.