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All bets are off

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ALL BETS ARE OFF
(WORLD CUP 2018)

By Andrew Biggs

Day One

Even before that very first match in which Russia trounced Saudi Arabia, the Thai government was threatening to do its own trouncing. This time around, it would get real tough on World Cup gamblers.

There would be a three-pronged effort between the Central Investigation Bureau, the Immigration Bureau, and the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO).

Police submitted a list of 300 online football betting websites, mostly from abroad, hoping to block them in Thailand. From May 1 to June 13, 722 suspects were arrested. Things were off to a good start.

And when the World Cup began on June 14, the message was clear: Gamble on the World Cup, and the authorities would come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Thais are avid gamblers — nearly as crazy about it as Australians — and will gamble on absolutely everything.

The problem is, gambling is illegal in Thailand.

Sort of.

Day Two

Thai newspapers Khao Sod and Matichon have launched a fantastic competition. All you have to do is buy a newspaper and predict who will be the champion team for the World Cup.

This is exciting. For a bet of just 20 baht, the price of the newspaper, I have the chance to win a brand new Mazda pick-up worth over 750,000 baht.

Tomorrow my home country Australia is playing France. They haven’t a snowflake’s chance in Isan of becoming champions, but didn’t we say the same thing about Donald Trump prior to the 2016 presidential elections?

I place my bet. I buy the newspaper, fill out the form, writing “AUSTRALIA” as my guess for the winning team.

That afternoon I light a special joss stick and place it inside the spirit house outside my home.

“Even if I don’t win the pick-up truck,” I whisper magnanimously to the shrine, “Please make Australia be the champions.”

Day Three

The deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau says cops are losing the battle against both online and offline football gambling.

“You can catch physical gambling pools or arrest gamblers in the den. But it is almost impossible to track down those masterminds, both Thais and foreigners, behind online football gambling rings,” Deputy Commissioner Phanurat Lakboon explains.

One of the problems is that Thailand’s neighbour, Cambodia, allows gambling. Against their will, Thais are lured over the border to glittering casinos in places like Poi Pet, which is Cambodian for Boondocks. While there they seize the opportunity to gamble on the World Cup.

The other problem is that Thai law is not very harsh when it comes to punishments.

Gamblers, it appears, get the same lenient treatment as pedophile school directors and embezzling permanent secretaries. They cop a small fine and get transferred to inactive posts. The maximum fine is 1,000 Baht, which is nothing when you could win, say, 20 million baht.

Day Four

Shattered by Australia’s defeat to France, my depression is alleviated by a giant ad in the Daily News. The popular newspaper is giving away prizes worth over 20 million baht for those who correctly guess who will win the World Cup!

I quickly make the purchase of the newspaper and cut out the four coupons required, then write down my bet as to which team will be the champions.

Brazil had a rocky start, with a tie against Switzerland, but I’ve got a good feeling about them. Besides, their national colors are similar to Australia’s. With this in mind, I put my money on Brazil.

I send it off. It’s a sure gamble. I am now in the running to win gold, a Mitsubishi Pajero, a Honda motorbike or free air tickets.

My personal assistant warns me not to get my hopes up. I’m up against millions of Thais who will also enter the sweepstakes, but I figure you’ve gotta be in it to win it.

Day Five

The Bangkok Post is reporting that AMLO is working closely with banks to monitor suspicious financial transactions. This is in a move to impound assets of people involved in gambling during the World Cup.

Up to 36 banks and financial institutions have teamed up to form a countrywide operation to help AMLO. Phone network service operators are also on board to beef up the crackdown.

Day Six

My Thai staff admonish me for sending in my predictions so quickly.

“You should do what the Thais do,” my personal assistant says. “Wait until the very last day of the competition. There will be only four teams left. Then send in a thousand entries for each team.”

My interest is piqued. “Isn’t sending 4,000 entries a little expensive?”

“Think about it,” he says. “Supposing you send in a thousand postcards at 5 baht each. That’s 5,000 baht times four, which is 20,000 baht. It’s still a good bet if you win.”

Today I notice one phone service network is running a great competition. If I sign up, I can win 30 million baht in prizes just for predicting the winner of the World Cup.

Thirty million Baht!

I get what my personal assistant is saying. For an initial outlay of 20,000 baht, I can win a first prize of 10 million baht. I’m starting to get the hang of this gambling thing. It’s fun!

But who to choose? I have gone off Brazil. I am edging more towards Russia, since they are the hosts and we all know Russia never plays by the rules. Putin is sure to be barking orders to secure the cup.

I decide to gamble on Russia, but I hold off placing my bet. When in Rome …

Day Seven

Surat Thani cops raided a football gambling den and detained 12 gamblers and two employees. That doesn’t sound a lot to me.

Meanwhile police raided four more locations in Hua Hin, arresting 20 suspects. That’s a grand total of 32 gamblers. Where could all the rest be hiding?

Nevertheless, police around the country, including Nakhon Keystone, are running around doing their best to stamp out all forms of World Cup gambling.

Day Eight

Speaking of stamps …

At my office’s weekly meeting, all the talk is about the World Cup. Since Australia is no longer in the running I am no longer interested. But then my personal assistant shoves a print ad in my face.

Thailand Post in association with Thai Rath newspaper is giving away 32 million baht in prizes! It is the mother of all betting campaigns and it’s brought to you by the government’s own post office.

For the cost of a postcard, I can win cash prizes of up to ten million baht.

“I might have to bet on that one,” I say.

“It’s not betting,” says my PA. “We call it loon choke in Thai.”

That translates as “performing an act in order to hope for good luck to come one’s way”. I consult my Merriam-Webster and it defines gambling as “to bet on an uncertain outcome” and “to play a game for money or property.” That definition fits what the post office is doing like a glove.

Sounds a lot like loon choke as well.

And that is where we are up to now. I’ve entered so many competitions I have lost count. It’s going to get busy at my office when it’s down to the final four teams; my staff will be begrudgingly filling out a lot of postcards.

This is what’s great about living in Thailand during the World Cup. It’s so exciting, especially when the sport can win you 10 million baht for the price of a newspaper!

Meanwhile the government is still trying to locate elusive gamblers. Or perhaps they just can’t see the forest for the postcards.

/Andrew

 

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