Illegal Gambling Leads to Seizure of Million-Dollar Properties in Thailand

Posted on: November 24, 2023, 06:43h. 

Last updated on: November 24, 2023, 10:44h.

Online gambling is illegal in Thailand. But that doesn’t stop some would-be entrepreneurs from trying to get in the game. One recently saw his operations come crashing down, leading to his arrest and the seizure of luxury villas.

An aerial view of Nai Harn Bay and beach
An aerial view of Nai Harn Bay and beach in Thailand. Police have seized two multimillion-dollar homes in the area linked to an illegal gambling operation. (Image: The Phuket News)

Officials from Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) have confiscated two upscale resorts in a Thai island province, valued at THB1 billion (US$28.15 million). Media outlet Thaiger reports that they’re linked to an online gambling network run by a man the authorities are only calling Phakphum.

The two properties the authorities seized covered a combined area of 3.75 acres. Both are in the same location, sporting views of Thailand’s Nai Harn Bay, one of the country’s leading tourist destinations.

Links to Top Cops

Phakphum reportedly holds an executive position at Ufa Bet, an online gambling platform recognized as one of Thailand’s top three illegal gambling networks. Ufa Bet’s online operations have since been halted because of its alleged unlawful activities.

The DSI revealed that Ufa Bet is intricately connected to high-ranking police officers, including “Inspector Sua,” a former policeman implicated in a multi-billion-baht gambling scheme. Ufa Bet faces accusations of running an extensive chain of illicit activities, collaborating with another network, Pannarong, which has expanded its operations into neighboring countries.

Phakphum, aged 29, allegedly oversees approximately 80 mule accounts utilized for receiving funds from gamblers. These accounts, some holding over THB1 billion, involve migrant workers and Thai nationals.

Police arrested Phakphum at Suvarnabhumi Airport on November 4 when he was returning to the country. He initially denied the allegations. However, faced with compelling evidence, he later admitted to his role in the illegal gambling website operation.

DSI director-general Suriya Singhakamol disclosed that Phakphum’s associates have implicated his older brother, Phuchit, as the owner of Ufa Bet. He fled the country more than a year ago, and his whereabouts are still unknown. Additionally, Phakphum’s younger sister, Pornpatsa, holds an executive position within the gambling network.

Reports suggest that Phakphum obtained a license to operate gambling websites from an undisclosed casino network. There have also been rumors that Ufa handled up to THB72 billion (US$2.02 billion) in daily turnover, much of which may have been funneled to that casino network.

Conservative Thailand Turns Progressive

Thailand’s gambling laws are stringent and reflect the government’s conservative stance on gambling activities. The primary legislation governing gambling in Thailand is the Gambling Act of 1935, which prohibits most forms of betting and wagering. Traditional forms of gambling, such as casino games and sports betting, are illegal, and the government actively enforces these restrictions.

One notable exception is the state-sponsored lottery, which remains legal and widely popular. The Thai government operates the lottery as a means of generating revenue for public projects, and citizens are allowed to participate in this officially sanctioned form of gambling. However, unauthorized lotteries and other forms of gambling remain strictly prohibited.

The anti-gambling stance extends to online gambling as well. The Computer Crime Act of 2007 addresses internet-related offenses, and engaging in online gambling activities can result in legal consequences. Despite these regulations, there is a presence of underground and illicit gambling operations, leading to periodic crackdowns by law enforcement.

Efforts to legalize certain forms of gambling, such as casinos, have been proposed over the years, but they have faced strong opposition from conservative factions within Thai society. The strict laws persist, but the country seems to be moving toward a more progressive gambling sentiment.