Elephants kick-off World Cup fever in Thailand
Nine elephants played a football match to raise awareness against illegal gambling in the Southeast Asian country.
The elephants, painted with the flags of countries competing in the upcoming World Cup, passed the ball to each other and swerved around the field in a 15-minute match. Organizers claimed they wanted to teach students that the World Cup was more about enjoying football than betting on teams.
"They’re here to bring color and joy, and create awareness that we can enjoy the World Cup without gambling and just cheer for the soccer players," said Reangthongbaht Meephan, deputy chief of the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal.
Illegal gambling in Thailand
Betting or promoting gambling, other than on horse races, is a criminal offence in Thailand. During the World Cup, as there are no legal betting alternatives, people often turn to illegal gambling. Those who get caught often face a small fine of 1,000 baht ($31.17), however, if children are involved, their parents can face a 10,000 baht ($311.72) fine or three months in jail.
During the 2010 South Africa World Cup, over 1,700 people were arrested for gambling-related offences, and for the upcoming tournament, police said they have already arrested 763 people in 681 cases of illegal soccer gambling since 1 May.
According to Bangkok’s deputy police commissioner Panurat Lakboon, over 300 gambling websites are being monitored, however, as their servers are outside of Thailand, they are difficult to shut down. One gambler in Bangkok interviewed by Reuters, said campaigns to stop gambling are unlikely to make a serious dent during the World Cup.
"Betting on soccer is so easy in Thailand," said the gambler, who declined to be named. "You can even go into a market and ask around, and within 10 minutes someone will come to take your bet".