Thailand Targets “Web Pretties” in World Cup Gambling Crackdown

Thai Authorities Target “Web Pretties” Amid World Cup Gambling Crackdown

Thai authorities have issued orders to arrest 100 models and celebrities featured in online ads for illegal FIFA World Cup gambling sites. 

In advance of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, authorities in Thailand have begun a crackdown targeting hundreds of illegal online sites offering betting opportunities to the country’s gamblers. The crackdown has included among its targets hundreds of “web pretties”, Thai women hired to model for the online sites.

Hundreds of young Thai women may face charges connected to illegal online gambling in a Thailand-wide crackdown preceding the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The “pretties”, largely models and minor celebrities in the country, accepted modeling gigs for as many as several hundred offshore sites offering services to gamblers in Thailand, where all forms of sports wagering are strictly illegal, yet widespread.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post: “Police plan to summon and charge around 100 celebrities and online beauty presenters for allegedly promoting illegal football gambling websites. Phanurat Lakboon, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, in his capacity as director of an operation against World Cup football gambling, said Monday that the suspects faced a maximum prison term of one year and/or a maximum fine of 1,000 baht.” (1,000 Thai baht equals €26.4 or US $31.10, a not insignificant sum in Thailand, a country with a much lower standard of living than any first-world nations.)

The Bangkok Post report also quoted Deputy Commissioner Lakboon as saying his office will summon the online models “ten at a time” to face the charges.

Likely hundreds of sites involved

How pervasive the sites are within Thailand’s underground gambling culture remains unclear. Another Thai news source, Khaosod, alleged that as many as a thousand different “web pretties” and illegal (in Thailand) websites might be involved. Though that is unlikely regarding the number of Thai web models involved, it may be possible regarding the site count.

One bold site, FIFATH (an acronym for FIFA Thai) has even posted videos on YouTube advertising its services. Also visible there and through general web searches are hundreds of FIFA-(numeric) gambling domains, which include both the Thai “pretties” and the football betting opportunities. The online models may also be a target of opportunity, since the owners and operators of most, but not all, of the illicit sites are based outside the country’s law-enforcement reach.

Domains such as FIFA55, FIFA555, FIFA8888, FIFA1234, FIFA9999, and many more appear connected to an operation in neighboring Cambodia, while even some European white-label operators also appear to accept wagers from Thailand, classifying it as a grey-market instead of prohibited jurisdiction.

World Cup crackdown a Thai tradition

Wagering on FIFA World Cup football is an honored tradition in the country, just as it is elsewhere in Southeast Asia and around the globe. Thailand’s official ban on sports betting has done little to curtail the activity, which has flourished in the online age.

Also becoming a tradition are the attempts by Thai authorities to crack down on the activity in advance of the World Cup, one of the globe’s largest wagering events. In 2014, those authorities arrested more than 5,000 individuals in connection with illegal gambling operations. This World Cup season’s crackdown has already nabbed nearly 800 detainees, including eight men arrested in Bangkok who are accused of running several illegal sites from within a three-story house.