The sound of money: The ambience of the game room at Savan Vegas Casino in Savannakhet Province, Laos, which can accommodate up to 2,000 players at a time.
For decades, there has been no more controversial issue than the legalization of casino games.
A project to build a large casino as part of an entertainment complex was recently submitted to the House of Representatives, which voted 310 to nine in favor of creating an extraordinary committee to study it.
Led by Deputy Minister of Transport Atirat Ratanasate, the 60-member group appointed five sub-committees to explore related areas, including related laws, investments and the complex format, as well as measures to prevent any negative impact. . He has 90 days to complete the work.
Before the conclusions are laid on the table, Bangkok Post spoke to MPs who believe the time is right for casino tourism and other stakeholders who warn that the casino project itself is a gamble and the benefits may not outweigh the costs social.
An engine of growth
The proposal to create the House committee was brought forward by a group of government and opposition lawmakers who said legalization of casinos was long overdue and presented the casino-entertainment complex as a solution for the economy battered by Covid-19.
Lawmakers have touted the economic benefits the casino-entertainment complex would bring to the tourism and service industry, not to mention state coffers that have suffered from declining revenues due to the pandemic.
Thailand could collect around four trillion baht in revenue a year from legalizing casinos, and Thai and foreign investors are eagerly awaiting this form of investment. The casino project would also create jobs and bring more economic activity, they said.
The Northern Economic Corridor comprising Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lampang has been proposed as a potential location for the project. But in the end, it would depend on the feasibility study and the contribution of the local public.
Some MPs added that if casino gambling were legalized, the country would have more money from tax revenues to subsidize welfare schemes, education and public infrastructure projects.
Speaking in favor of the proposal, Bhumjaithai Party MP for Uthai Thani Chada Thaiseth said Thailand needs to act quickly but could start small by bringing the game to an airport.
“If we decide to buy a casino, we have to move quickly. More than a hundred committees have been set up to study this proposal. I think now is the right time to do it.
“We can have gaming tables for international travelers. As for the Thais, there must be conditions for those who want to play. It all depends on the government, if it wants to move forward,” he said. declared.
For the public good
Chutchawan “Chut Taopoon” Kong-u-dom, leader of the Thai Local Power Party, said he was confident the casino project would come to fruition this time around, as it received the support of government deputies and the opposition.
Online gambling is now widespread and difficult to regulate, and if existing laws are not up to par, they should be amended to suit the circumstances.
“If we want to have a casino, we have to do it right. In other countries, entry is prohibited for people under the age of 20. be rules and not everyone should be allowed to play, ”he said.
He also said the party will include the legalization of casinos in its political platform for the upcoming elections with tax revenues intended to help farmers or students.
However, he said the proposed change should go to a public referendum.
The leader of the Thai Civilized Party, Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, said illegal gambling activities and online betting brought in between 80 and 120 billion baht per year and that it was time to regulate them and put the money in. the system.
He said the country’s economy was doing badly with government debts exceeding 10,000 billion baht, so money from casino taxes could turn the situation around.
Let the public be the judge
Thanakorn Komkris, general secretary of the Stop Gambling Foundation, said the casino proposal should be given careful consideration and when voters vote in the next nationwide ballot, they should be asked to vote.
By putting the issue to a referendum, everyone has to make their own views, and parties campaigning for the legalization of gambling can also pitch the idea.
Mr Thanakorn said one of his main concerns was that casinos could be used by criminals to launder illegally earned money.
While the House committee continues its study, the government should also begin to develop mechanisms to regulate gambling activities and mitigate the impacts, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
In his view, even if gambling is ultimately legalized, there will still be illegal gambling dens that deviate from commercial standards and attempt to evade strict supervision and regulation.
The impacts could be negative and widespread, he said, pointing to the results of studies on Thai gambling habits.
One study concluded that over a million Thais are highly addicted to the extent that their habit has affected their health, work and relationships.
The launched proposal also includes the legalization of online gambling, he said. “The government must take into consideration both positive and negative impacts,” he said.
Mr Thanakorn disagrees with those who see the project as a potential solution to illegal gambling or a source of income to fund social protection programs. There must be other ways for the government to bring in more money, he said.
Splint for impacts
Nattakorn Vititanon, professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, said the government needs to be clear on what the casino project could pave the way for in terms of future legislation.
If the project aims to generate tourism income, eradicate illegal gambling, and keep Thai players and their money in the country, chances are that Thais will be allowed into the facility when they are not. there are not enough international tourists.
This is currently the case in some Asean countries where Covid-19 has restricted travel and locals are allowed access to casinos to keep the business afloat, he said.
He also warned that opening a casino when the pandemic was not yet over could backfire due to travel restrictions.
Several casinos have been forced to close as their main Chinese customers still face travel restrictions.
With Thailand relying on Chinese tourists, the casino project could take a long time during the pandemic, he said.
Mr Nattakorn said that while it is likely that Thais will be allowed access to the casino, strong rules and remedies need to be put in place to mitigate the impacts caused by gambling which is known to inflict social ills.
“The impacts associated with gambling such as debt, crime and divorce cannot be measured in terms of money, so the problem needs to be looked at and social problems minimized,” Nattakorn said.
According to a 2019 study by the Center for Gambling Studies, some 30.42 million Thais, or 57% of the population, engaged in some kind of gambling.
About 20% were between 15 and 18 years old; 46% were between 19 and 25 years old; and 42% were 60 years or older.
That figure also represented an increase of 1.4 million players from when the study started in 2017.