Bangkok now expat hub for online professional poker players

Published:  19 Mar at 6 PM
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In spite of the fact that gambling is mostly illegal in Thailand, Bangkok is now being celebrated as a world hub for online poker-playing professionals earning enough money to keep themselves in a manner other expats can’t quite manage.

According to media reports, moving to Thailand in order to play poker for a living is the latest fad amongst the expat professional poker-playing community. US pro players choose Thailand due to the sad fact their own country only has three states in which playing for money online is legalised, mostly so that the state can take part of the pot on each online table in taxes. For professional players, making a living is a full-time job, even in a bargain basement country like Thailand. Playing literally tens of thousands of hands on multiple tables every month requires fast internet speeds, easily available in Bangkok but less so in other large Thai cities.

The legal aspects of playing online poker as a means of getting by as an expat are tricky to quantify, as laws already in place prohibit online gambling in Thai baht, but the rules are intended to limit how much Thai players can actually lose. As regards betting in foreign currency, no definitive laws exist and a nod towards the possibility that online professional poker players are also tourists contributing to the country’s somewhat shaky economy may be enough to keep the Thai police from the door. However, the number of online poker websites actually catering exclusively for Thai players seems to reinforce the closing of official eyes to this supposed breach of the gambling rules.

Expat poker players in Bangkok are now getting together to form their own exclusive communities, either living as a group in so-called ‘poker houses’ or taking over an entire cheap-rental condo block. Popular active web forums disseminate useful information including tips on which online games are best and where to find the fastest internet speed. It’s the perfect way to turn poker skills into an income in private or semi-private places the authorities are unlikely to investigate. Bangkok also provides easy access to other Southeast Asian countries which allow live tournaments, including Cambodia and Vietnam.

It has to be assumed that professional online poker players holed up in Bangkok’s innumerable condo blocks may not have the visas necessary for long-term stays in the country, but Thailand’s immigration officials seem far more interested in forcing conventional Western expatriates to leave by changing immigration rules without sufficient warning to allow those affected to comply. One provincial visa agency is on record for saying a four-figure number of expatriates have relocated to other countries since the beginning of this year, and the exodus is likely to continue. It’s not unlikely that a number of those heading elsewhere or back to their home countries have Thai wives and families who can’t join them due to Western financial rules on dependents.
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