Thais likely to spend US$800m on illegal betting

BANGKOK: Football-crazed Thais are expected to shell out some US$800 million on Euro 2004 bets despite a crackdown on illicit gambling ahead of the championship, Thai surveys said yesterday. 

The Thai Farmers Bank Research Centre surveyed 1,269 people across the country and concluded that football punting could reach a staggering 33 billion baht (US$814 million) for the three-week event – even more than was wagered during the 2002 World Cup. 

“The economic situation has improved, so people have more money to bet,” the survey from a prominent research house said. “The number of gamblers among students and workers is higher.” 

The figure equates to some 0.5% of Thailand's estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2004. 

The centre estimated that bets flowed to the tune of 30 billion baht during the last World Cup, while 20 billion baht was wagered on Euro 2000. 

Another poll of 3,039 people estimated that Thais would gamble some 30.45 billion baht (US$751 million) on Euro 2004. 

Punters, the vast majority of whom are male, spanned the spectrum from students and street vendors to corporate executives. 

Most forms of gambling are illegal in Thailand but illicit betting on everything from Thai boxing to fish-fighting is rampant.  

The Euro 2004 gambling is likely to be fuelled by a current Thai bid to purchase a 30% stake in English Premiership giants Liverpool. 

On Wednesday, Bangkok police said that they would set up a centre to crack down on gambling during the European Championship after Premier Thaksin Shinawatra ordered them to get tough on illegal betting. 

The centre was expected to begin operations today – a day before the tournament kicks off – and officers from every station in Bangkok would be required to report to it. – AFP 

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