11 July 2024

Deputy Public Health Minister Satit Pitutacha insists that there are permanent illegal gambling dens in Thailand’s eastern province of Rayong, some of which had been closed down by local officials only to reopen for business shortly after, without any legal action being taken against the owners.

He claimed that the presence of such illegal activity in the province is widely known among the people in the localities and “even reporters know the names of the den owners and where they are located, but I have yet to see any of them charged, maybe because there is no hard evidence against them or for other reasons.”

Satit’s claim contradicts claims, by the Rayong police chief, Pol Maj-Gen Papatdet Katephan, that there are no permanent illegal gambling dens, only smaller and mobile ones. He has since been removed from his post and transferred to the operations centre of the Royal Thai Police by the national police chief.

The deputy health minister, who is also an MP for Rayong province, said that, in June this year, during the first wave of COVID-19 infections, local officials raided an illegal gambling den in Mab Tapud sub-district, which eventually led to the removal of five of the district’s top police officers pending an investigation.

All the officers were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing and were reinstated, said Satit, adding that he was powerless to deal with the illegal gambling problem. He then decided to seek help from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who, eventually, ordered authorities to fix the problem. Illegal gambling dens have, however, resurfaced.

The deputy minister said he believes illegal gambling is a “cancer” in the Royal Thai police, resulting in the trading of key police positions and a distortion of justice.

Well known political activist Srisuwan Janya, meanwhile, claimed that there are several small illegal gambling dens still operating in Rayong province, after the closure of the one suspected to be the source of a cluster of COVID-19 infections in the province.

He said that many people in the province, especially motorcycle taxi drivers, are fully aware of their presence “but none of them dare to speak up publicly”.

Meanwhile, Deputy House Speaker Suchart Tancharoen admitted that a member of the subcommittee of the House Committee on Online Gambling was found to be infected with COVID-19, but that he was unaware that the young man is the son of the owner of one of the illegal gambling dens.

He said that he accepted the young man to work on the subcommittee on the recommendation of former Rayong MP Sermsak Karoon, after having checked his educational background and criminal record.