Thai Women Playing Cards
There are few things in Thai society that cause more social problems than gambling. After drugs, it is probably the next biggest cause of financial troubles, family disputes and crime.
Gambling is illegal in Thailand. There is a government lottery and gambling is allowed at a number of live sporting events but other than that, all forms of gambling are prohibited. This does not stop many Thais from indulging in their regular gambling fix. There seems to be something in the Asian psyche that finds gambling particularly fascinating and addictive. Perhaps it is the belief in lucky numbers and fate that is common to many Asian cultures. Perhaps it is the desire to beat the system and feel clever. Maybe it is just the hope that they can hit a big win and ease all their financial woes. Unfortunately, gambling causes many more financial woes than it ever solves.
There are many forms of gambling available in Thailand. There is the underground lottery and numbers gambling. There are bookies covering sports events. There are illegal casinos. There are also casinos across the borders of Burma and Cambodia specifically located there to cater to the gambling needs of Thais.
One of the most common forms of gambling in Thailand is card schools. These little card games take place in the back rooms of shops and houses all over Thailand.
Strangely, I think these card schools are one of the biggest causes of gambling problems in Thailand. It is also the form of gambling that is mostly likely to cause problems for the ex-pat male residents in Thailand. This is not because ex-pat men are prone to joining these games. No, it is their wives who are likely to play.
You see it is Thai women who are much more likely to form these little card schools. While Thai men are more likely to gamble on sport events or at casinos, Thai women prefer the little social groups of card schools. The Thai wives of ex-pats are prime-candidates for forming these card schools. They often find themselves with more time on their hands as they no longer need to work and they have more expendable income.
So they gather with other Thai women in a similar position and they start playing cards. These card schools normally start as nice friendly social games played for small stakes, although there are always stakes, they are never playing just for fun. Many Thai women are sensible enough to keep it at that level. However, many others cannot. The games expand, the stakes grow, and the friendly social aspect disappears. They are playing ferociously for the money.
I cannot overstate the number of problems I have seen caused by these card games. Many of the problems land right on the doorstep of the ex-pat husbands.
Some Thai women seem to find these card schools totally addictive. They start playing all day, every day. Then it gets worse. They start playing through the night. I have heard of Thai women disappearing for three days at a time at these card schools. Like many other addictions, when it reaches this level it becomes anti-social; not only for the husband and children at home but also for the players. They are no longer playing together as friends. They are competitors. The chit-chat stops, the friendships end but the game goes on.
That is just part of the problem. The real problems begin once the debts start mounting up. The stakes in these games start increasing. What started as a 20-baht game becomes a hundred and then a thousand. Then losses can start mounting up rapidly. Once these women start losing many of them find it difficult to walk away. They start chasing their losses and then it can get worse.
I have heard of 20,000 and 30,000 bets at these 'friendly social games'. Then the car keys are thrown on the table. Then it is the house deeds! I am not joking. I know of two ex-pat residents just in my local estate who have lost their homes because their wives gambled them in games of cards. I know of several other guys who lost their marriages because of their wives' card games.
These card schools take place in just about every town and village in Thailand and the amount of grief they cause is hard to measure.
I am fortunate that my wife has no interest in cards, or any other form of gambling apart from the occasional lottery ticket. Her brother is not so fortunate. His wife has started playing cards. The pair of them had been doing very well with their little fruit and veg delivery service. Unfortunately, their increased income only served to allow his wife to join a local card school. Now they cannot make enough money to feed his wife's habit. The rest of my wife's family are distancing themselves from her brother because they know where these games can lead and they cannot afford to pay for it.
It is yet another little story of family strife caused by gambling. There is very little that anyone can do about it. The Thai authorities have made gambling illegal and gambling regularly tops the list of arrests in Phuket's crime statistics. However, it is almost impossible to stop people meeting in their own homes and playing cards. The most common reason why police ever catch these card schools is because a desperate husband has phoned them up and turned in his own wife in the forlorn hope it will stop her playing. It rarely works.