At first glance, Thailand might seem like an odd choice of places for a poker player to spend much time. As in most countries of Southeast Asia, gambling in the “Land of Smiles” is, on the main, completely illegal. Only two officially sanctioned betting opportunities are available to the public—buying Thai State Lottery tickets and wagering on horseracing at such venues as the Bangkok Turf Club.
True, there is an active underground bookmaking trade throughout the country, but Thai bookies have developed a very negative reputation over the past decade or so. Apart from breaking the law and having frequent run-ins with authorities, they often fail to pay their winning customers. What’s the point of betting if you can only lose?
For that reason, local Thai citizens who seek the thrill of gambling and can afford to do so will travel south to neighboring Malaysia, where one of the world’s largest casinos—the 200,000-square-foot Casino de Genting—is more than happy to relieve visitors of their hard-earned baht. Why then, have so many poker players from around the globe been flocking to Thailand in the past few years?
Welcoming the Ferang
Unlike many countries, Thailand welcomes Ferang (foreigners). Those who come as tourists find little difficulty visiting for a month or more, and it isn’t too difficult to live in Thailand legally without working there, without breaking the law and without paying for the privilege with an arm and a leg. By studying Thai language, Muay Thai martial arts or Thai culture, almost anyone can get an Education Visa good for 12-15 months and renewable for up to five years.
Then there is the low cost of living. Expatriates in Bangkok find they can get by on about a third of what they used to spend on living expenses in Los Angeles or Orlando. Further afield in Phuket or Chiang Mai, it is possible to get a place to live, rent a scooter, subscribe to a superb Internet connection, get weekly maid service and eat out just about every meal for under $500 a month.
There are other attractions, too, especially for young alpha males, who make up a large part of the world’s poker population. Among them are beautiful beaches, beautiful women, beautiful temples, beautiful women, beautiful weather, beautiful women…. Life in Siam is a lot more serene than movies like the Hangover 2, Brokedown Palace or Elephant White might have one believe.
And as for the fact that gambling via the Internet is illegal, that doesn’t seem to bother the emigrants who have found their way to the Kingdom. After all, poker players are risk takers by nature. The chances of Ferang getting arrested for playing online in Thailand are next to none, as long as they obey all the other laws (especially those pertaining to illegal drugs) and avoid entrapment by informants such as jilted lovers.
The flow of grinders to Thailand has been boosted by America’s Black Friday shut down of online poker rooms, but the trend is not really new. PokerStars has long referred to “a large community of professional poker players in Thailand, who come here from all over the world to … live like kings.” Some of their top sponsored teammates live there, enjoying the benefits of a very international lifestyle.
According to official Thai government statistics, more than a quarter of all visitors to Thailand come from Europe compared to about 6% from the Americas. Among non-Asians entering the country, Britons are the leaders, with Australians right behind them and trailed by U.S. citizens and Germans. It’s a true melting pot environment.
And it’s an exciting place to live, too. For example, in May 2011, Dale “Daleroxxu” Philip reported on PokerStars’ Supernova and Supernova Elite players being treated to a night out in Bangkok with bowling, playing pool and dining on French cuisine.
“At our table there were six different nationalities: Scottish, English, German, American, Australian and of course azn_baller3 representing the Thais,” Philip wrote in his blog post. “With everyone well fed and merry, we headed on over to an up-market nightclub … with some great live music – that wasn’t too loud that we couldn’t talk, lots of space, and hot girls everywhere.” And that pretty much answers the question of “Why Thailand?”