Thailand’s Interior Ministry this week launched a crackdown on the so-called claw crane machines that can be found at shopping malls around the country, labeling them as gambling tools.
The ministry issued an order banning the machines on February 19. Provincial governors were informed that the ban should be enforced nationwide.
The recently signed order lists two types of arcade games that are widely popular all around Thailand – the controversial claw crane machines that involve customers paying money to use a claw to pick prizes, most often plush toys, piled inside a glass display case; and dispenser games and other game machines that involve players inserting a token to obtain items from inside a case or play various games.
With claw crane machines, customers insert a token, but there is no guarantee they will receive something in return. According to the Interior Ministry, the activity constitutes a game of chance, that is to say gambling.
With dispenser and other game machines, players always get something in return – an item or the fun of playing a game they like, which is why these are not seen as a gambling activity and would not be subject on the recently launched clampdown.
Inspections Set to Start Soon
Law enforcement officials are expected to soon begin conducting inspections of shopping malls where claw crane machines can be found. Operators of such machines will be warned to cease their activities. Repeated violators of the newly implemented ban face arrest.
The ban on the claw crane machines was introduced after pressure from anti-gambling activists. Nutthapong Sampaokaew, a coordinator at the No Gambling Youth Club, said the controversial machines can be found at shopping malls around the country and that young people have unrestricted access to them.
Mr. Nutthapong also noted that these machines constitute gambling and that under Thailand’s Gambling Act, they serve a betting purpose. The anti-gambling activist further said that this definition was confirmed by the country’s Supreme Court, but the machines have kept operating at stores around the country and attracting young players.
According to a recent survey conducted in 92 shopping malls in 10 Thai provinces, including Bangkok, there were more than 1,300 claw crane machines operating at 75 malls.
Thai lawmakers have historically been opposed to gambling activities and their presence in Thailand. Under the nation’s Gambling Act 1935, betting on horse races and government-run lottery are the only gambling activities that are permitted to be carried out on the territory of the Southeast Asian country.
Despite the limitation, gambling participation in the country was very high in 2019. According to a survey by the Thai Center for Gambling Studies and Center for Social and Business Development, around 57% of the country’s citizens engaged in either legal or illegal gambling activities last year.