JUST HOURS before the month-long 2018 Fifa World Cup tournament kicks off in Russia, advocates against youths’ football gambling yesterday paraded in downtown Bangkok.
They were highlighting the 2017 survey which found that 2.4 million Thais had engaged in football gambling worth a reported sum of Bt140 billion, while 82.6 per cent of secondary student punters said they starting picking up the gambling vice via football betting.
It was expected that over 10 per cent of Thai youths would place bets on football matches for this tournament, said Thai Health Promotion Foundation committee member Wichet Pichairat.
Wichet spoke as he joined with other activists, the Defence Ministry, the Royal Thai Police and 100 youths in a campaign dubbed “None will gamble on matches in this World Cup” at the Victory Monument area.
The campaign – aimed to pass on positive messages via various channels to stop all Thais, including youths, from gambling – will also see students from 10 universities produce four short films with anti-gambling content to air online and via roadshows to 100 secondary schools around the country, he said.
Wichet also cited research on gambling by youths during the 2016 UEFA European Football Championships, which found that 16.8 per cent of surveyed youths engaged in football betting. Some 10 per cent of this group initially had no intention to gamble but joined in under peer pressure or were induced by the hyper-emotional football atmosphere.
About 40 per cent of those youth gamblers admitted to facing subsequent problems, such as declining academic performance, stress from having a gambling debt which they had no idea how to repay, and being cheated, he said.
Stop Gambling Foundation chief Thanakorn Khromkit said gambling addiction is like being trapped by one’s own greed, excitement-seeking, exaggerated self-confidence while making calculated guesses, and search for popularity or peer acceptance.
A former football gambling addict, 35, who asked for anonymity, shared his life-changing experience and a warning. He has been participating in the vice since the age of 17, hanging around computer-game shops, and making his first bet of Bt20 on a World Cup football match. From that, he spiralled into the habit, becoming involved in gambling, and working as a small-time bookie. He was repeatedly cheated until he owed Bt2 million to larger bookies and had to flee his hometown to work in Bangkok as a bankrupt divorcee.
“I stopped gambling four years ago and am now working to repay debts,” he said. “Gambling addicts and those about to become one should learn from my mistake. Stop now before you lose everything – money, career, future or even your life.”
Meanwhile, deputy National Police Chief Pol General Chalermkiat Srivorakan yesterday affirmed that police would continue to crack down on football gambling, including online gambling. On the first night of World Cup 2018, he planned to lead a team to visit Huai Kwang district to conduct random checks on football-broadcasting venues, he said. He warned that youths caught gambling may face a maximum three-month jail term, a maximum Bt30,000 fine, or both while their parents would also be charged.
Bangkok business establishments have been decorating their premises in the World Cup football theme, including many massage parlours on Rama IX Road and New Phetchaburi Road.
In the South, postmen of Songkhla’s Hat Yai district joined the hype by wearing the football attire of various national teams while handing out postcards for the 2018 Fifa World Cup lucky draw.
In the northern city of Chiang Mai, a blacktip reef shark at Chiang Mai Zoo Aquarium has “forecast” the opening World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia would see the latter defeating the tournament hosts – which is in line with a June 12 prediction by a crocodile at Ubon Ratchathani Zoo.