Thai soccer fans are expected to gamble record amounts on the World Cup, which kicks off in France on Wednesday. A nationwide police crackdown and the continuing financial crisis were expected to do little to dent an underground industry which could generate 30 billion baht (HK$5.6 billion) in only four weeks, according to a study by Thai Farmers Bank. The bank said bets were up 35 per cent on the 1994 tournament. Police are keeping tabs on schools, bars and Internet sites devoted to sports gambling, and banks have been warned to watch for suspicious movements of funds. Prison wardens have been ordered to prevent both guards and inmates from gambling but several jails were expected to screen games. Much of the country was expected to wind down for the duration of the tournament as Thai television stations broadcast every game live. The World Cup had already started to dominate the Thai language press, with some columnists giving thinly disguised gambling tips. News that Brazilian star Romario and England's Paul Gascoigne had been dropped by their coaches filled the front pages of some papers. Football fans said a variety of odds could be obtained on the 'black market'. Brazil were favourites with odds ranging between 2-1 to 4-1 - prices that reflect official British bookmakers. 'Unfortunately Thailand is not playing so our bets are not affected by loyalty or nationalism,' said long-time fan Somchai Parasuk. 'It has been a tough year for many of us. The World Cup will allow us to forget our woes.'