Anyone who has watched a Muay Thai fight will have noticed the particularly loud and animated crowd on one side of the ring. They are the gamblers. As the fight progresses they get more and more excited, cheering every time their fighter lands a strike, screaming advice and even promising money to each fighter in between rounds if they win. In fact, it can be argued that they create the atmosphere at any Muay Thai venue.
Many people think that gambling is illegal in Thailand and that the betting at Muay Thai stadiums is simply tolerated. But this is not the case. Under the Gambling Act (B.E. 2478) of Thailand, there are many legal forms of gambling. This includes Muay Thai fights, bingo, the government-issued lottery and even cockfighting.
However, at the two biggest national stadiums, things are changing. Lumpinee Stadium is located on land belonging to the Royal Thai Army, who are determined to clean up the sport which they view as having been corrupted by gambling. So, they have banned any face-to-face gambling within the premises of both Lumpinee and Rajadamnern stadiums. Gambling is still allowed on fights held at both stadiums, but now only online.
Their hope is that Muay Thai venues across the country will follow their example. But since most of them are unable to offer an online alternative to the traditional in-stadium betting, this seems unlikely to happen any time soon. And so, for the time being, it looks like the familiar crowd of gamblers shouting and furiously exchanging bets on one side of the ring are here to stay, at least in venues outside of Bangkok.