A royal gamble turns sour for Thai princess - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

A glass slipper turned into a pumpkin for a Thai princess, when her luck turned sour after a gambling fix led her to flout immigration laws, The Nation newspaper reported Saturday.

Princess Bhanuma Yugala, daughter of the late Prince Bhanubhandu Yugala, was arrested and fined for crossing the border illegally to go on a gambling binge at a Cambodian casino.

Gambling is illegal in Thailand, yet widespread throughout Thai society. Thus, major casino owners have established operations just across the border into Cambodia, aimed primarily at Thai bettors.

Authorities at the Aranyaphrathet border post were at a loss to explain why the princess had chosen to take a shady illegal route, rather than the legal one used daily by hundreds of high-rolling compatriots.

Police officials told the newspaper that Bhanuma did confess to hiring a people-smuggler from the village market to take her across the border 10 days before, to try her luck at the Poi Pet casino complex.

When her luck ran dry she returned to Thailand penniless, whereupon she was nabbed by immigration authorities and fined 1,600 baht (about $40) for an illegal border crossing, the report said.

A police source told the newspaper that she was unable to pay the fine, alleging that she had been robbed in Cambodia. He said officials did not believe her story, nor did they allow her to go free.

The princess managed to contact her mother who deposited some money into her bank account to pay the fine and the return trip home to Bangkok, the report said.

But after police accompanied the princess to an automated-teller machine to withdraw the money to pay the fine, they said she refused to return home, and pleaded instead for legal passage back to the Cambodia-based casino to try her luck one more time.

When they demurred, the princess disappeared into the alleys of the border-town market, with police agents assigned to watch out for her well-being in hot pursuit, the newspaper reported.

Both Thai-Buddhist strictures and governmental laws prohibit gambling, but those are widely flouted, even by monks, in the betting-crazed society.

A high-profile raid at a notorious underground casino in Bangkok last month renewed the public debate over gambling, even as Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra suggested that perhaps the prohibition should finally be lifted.

Neighbouring countries have begun reaping huge profits from promoting legal high-end casinos for insatiable Asian bettors.

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