Looking for Luck in All the Right Places

March 19, 2001

Looking for luck in Thailand can consist of asking a monk for an auspicious date to open a business, going to a fortuneteller, walking under the stomach of an elephant, wearing a religious amulet around your neck, getting a tattoo, or making a wish at a religious shrine. Buying a lottery ticket or placing a bet on a feisty rooster is another alternative.

As most Thais are Buddhist, personal destinies are seen as something that have been earned in one’s past life, but it never hurts to try to improve your current life (and cash flow). Animism plays a big role in the belief that there are a host of ghosts and gods waiting to assist one on the material plane and that one can indeed influence their own future.

When my Thai girlfriend knows that I am heading off to a particularly lucky temple or shrine, she always asks me to discover some lucky numbers for her. I once sat rubbing a tree coated in candle wax with my thumb for ten minutes trying to help her out and also to190301k1.jpg satisfy my own curiosity. Maybe I saw the number four pop up; you just can’t be sure about that stuff.

After a young girl made a wish to win the lottery at the Erawan Elephant Museum (under construction) on Suhkumvit Road and won the next day, it made the local papers. Now on the two days before the national lottery drawing every month (the 1st and 16th) the area is jam packed with people hoping for that extra bit of luck. Offerings of food, flowers, and incense are made to this gigantic three-headed elephant, which stands at a whopping 50 metres. On non-lottery days, the area is more or less deserted.

The Thai military uses a lottery to determine the men who will serve at the age of 18. A black ticket means you are home free, while a red ticket means you should get ready to march for the next two years. I believe this is a cause for many a young man to go somewhere special and hope for a black ticket with all his might.

Most forms of gambling are illegal in190301k2.jpg Thailand but that does not seem to deter those looking for a fast cash fix (or loss!) “According to (The Thai Farmers Research Centre), 70 percent of Thai adults gamble regularly, especially on the underground lottery. The gambling business also generates about 360 billion baht a year, amounting to about one-third of the national budget.” (Bangkok Post, June 17, 2000)

State lottery tickets can be found for sale at every possible street corner. A ticket costs 90 baht (2.25 US Dollars) and the seller makes 10 baht profit from each sale. These vendors are very often blind people trying to make a living. Since I have lived in Thailand, the license plate numbers on my car have won three times. I am always amazed at the number of people who point this out to me! Should I start playing that number?

Besides the state lottery, it is also legal to bet on the horses. There is also a thriving illegal underground lottery, which is very common to a betting pool a group of friends190301k3.jpg might form.

Pool halls can provide lucrative income to a talented player. Cockfights draw big crowds and card games can go on all night, or at least until the police come. Once while looking for a hotel room up country, the owner explained to us that it would be a great place to stay because the police never stopped by to see if there was an illegal card game happening.

There are countless advertisements reminding the population that most forms of gambling are illegal, for all it is worth. Efforts are being made to educate people about the dangers of gambling and sometimes there are violent disputes over unpaid gambling debts. There are raids on illegal casinos and other betting venues. There are also talks of making gambling legal. I believe gambling is just part of human nature. I once had a short affair with ‘scratch tickets’ in America and have also attended more than a few rounds of Bingo.

In my opinion, the Thai sense of gambling is best represented in the ladies’ room. If all of the stalls are full, people do not wait their turn in an organized line and proceed in the order that they arrived in as the stalls empty out. Instead each woman chooses a door to wait in front off upon entering the bathroom. Maybe it is a lucky door and the occupant comes out in a jiffy. Or maybe you stand hopping on one foot for a long time while the person inside appears to be reading a novel. It all depends on how lucky you are.

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