The Psychology of Thailand’s Illegal Sports Betting Obsession!

Thailand Sports Betting

Gambling is so deeply rooted in Thailand’s culture that it’s surprising it hasn’t been legalized yet. Sports betting, in particular, has a significant fan base in the country. It’s interesting to note that gambling was popular even before the internet came along.

The illegality of the sport seems to be an important factor that attracts most players with its various options, both in the underground gaming sector and online.

The psychology of Thailand gamers has certainly captured the attention of many and is a fascinating phenomenon to explore.

What Do the Numbers Say

According to a recently validated report, 30% of the country engaged in sports betting in 2022. This amounts to nearly 20 million local residents. The unregulated sports betting niche is a major draw, notably football, which contributed for 160.5 billion baht of total gambling revenue in 2019.

During this period, a staggering 20.2 billion baht was wagered through offshore betting providers. These numbers increased significantly during and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Actually, the COVID-19 lockdown measures significantly increased the popularity of online casinos in the country.

Many people continue to wager on sports illegally despite the risks, which include fines of up to 1,000 baht or up to a year in jail. It appears that the authorities have a greater emphasis on closing underground casinos rather than pursuing online casino operators. The psychological draw of illegal sports betting remains powerful enough that millions of Thais break the law to participate.

Why are so many Thais enamored with the unlawful activity?

Daily Dose of Adrenaline Rush

Thais are a lively people with a reputation for adventure. This mindset is mirrored in their gambling habits. The illegality of the activity is a powerful psychological motivator.

In such a gaming atmosphere, anything is possible, therefore thrill seeking through games of chance is highly sought after. Furthermore, the local gambling industry is methodically developed from the grassroots to the top level.

Most Thais have the opportunity to win large just where they are, without having to travel or visit luxurious venues. When such winning chances are combined with the risk of being captured by authorities, the thrill of the game increases substantially. 

Psychologists say that gambling in such an environment affects the brain’s synthesis of dopamine hormone, which is linked to the body’s reward function and hence increases emotions of pleasure.

As a result, such gaming behaviors become reinforced over time, and people seek the thrill whenever and wherever they can. Wins and losses from wagering become part of the whole experience. Near wins and actual wins send the player on an emotional roller coaster, and without self-regulation, the chances of addiction are high.

Contrary to what many people think, forbidden gambling is not solely about the money. There are other factors at play that engage the brain’s reward system, which is why many Thai people are drawn to it for pleasure.

High Socialization of Gambling in Thai Culture

Cultural background and societal attitudes significantly impact normalizing gambling behaviors within any community. This is why different gaming landscapes have distinct characteristics and preferences, with the oldest gaming landscapes, such as Thailand, maintaining some level of normalcy despite the absence of an updated regulatory framework.

However, online casinos have emerged as a uniting force in global gaming landscapes, with sports as a catalyst. 

Looking at the current Thai market, modern types of gambling, such as electronic gaming machines and casinos, are expressly outlawed by law. The only legal betting options are government-run lotteries and horse racing betting. Thailand still uses the Gambling Act of 1935, which many proponents believe needs to be revised.

The regulation is so intrusive on gaming that it prohibits private ownership of playing cards that exceed 120. Nonetheless, gambling remains a part of Thai society, and traditional gaming events such as Muay Thai and cockfighting would be incomplete without immersing their spectators in money-making opportunities. 

Improved Accessibility

Gambling is a low-hanging fruit in modern society, as technology is transforming most traditional sectors. The more compelling the case for why consumer protection laws and modern market regulation are becoming more and more crucial. Accessibility has been boosted by low-cost cell phones and increased internet penetration, putting all global gamers on equal footing.

The second barrier that technology has eliminated is the diversification of payment options. One can withdraw their online casino gains as quickly as they deposit them using direct bank transfers, credit cards, e-wallets, and even digital currencies such as bitcoin.


Thailand is now moving towards regulation. Already, a parliamentary commission established following the epidemic to explore feasible measures for revitalizing the tourism sector has advocated leveraging the casino industry through government regulation to garner global attention.

The local market needs a significant overhaul, especially in light of the failure of measures to limit illegal gaming.

Article and permission to publish here provided by Alisa Tharin. Originally written for Supply Chain Game Changer and published on June 16, 2024.

Cover image provided by Alisa Tharin.