The future of gambling in Thailand Pattaya News - PattayaToday

The future of gambling in Thailand

Whether you support it or not, betting shops and gambling dens have long been commonplace in much of Thailand, despite attempts by authorities to eradicate the phenomenon

Thais love to play cards and bet on sports, especially soccer and cockfighting, although gambling is currently illegal here. Casinos in the border town of Poipet, Cambodia, often employ Thai nationals and are always full of Thai visitors, according to the Bangkok Post.

The Thai government has nurtured the idea of making gambling legal in the country for the past two decades. However, the plan has failed time and again because of arguments that gambling is not in line with Buddhist principles and that it would lead to an increase in illegal behavior.

While Thailand’s neighbors Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore have legalized gambling and set up casino complexes to attract tourists and boost their economies, Thailand sticks to its Gambling Act (1935), which bans all forms of monetary betting except the state lottery and horse racing at state-licensed racetracks.

Where casinos may appear in Thailand

Proposals to legalize casinos were debated in parliament in late June in an attempt to revive the pandemic-hit economy after the government successfully decriminalized cannabis the same month. Legalizing casinos would boost revenue, collect taxes from the complexes and crack down on illegal establishments, slot machines and online gambling.

According to a House committee studying the feasibility of opening such entertainment complexes, Thailand could host five casinos – one in each of the country’s five regions. In the north, the location could be Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai. In the central region, the suggested location for a casino is Pattaya.

In the south, Phuket, Phang-nga or Krabi are considered ideal locations. In the northeast, Ubonratchthani, Udon Thani or Khon Kaen are the choices. The main location is Bangkok or one of the surrounding provinces.

The House committee said the proposal, if approved, could help Thailand generate billions of dollars from foreign investors, travelers and Thai gamblers. The committee believes this target market would otherwise spend its gambling money in neighboring countries, and legalization in Thailand would also help curb illegal gambling and other criminal activity.

A casino in the Cambodian city of Poipet, neighboring Sa Kaeo province of Thailand. (Photo: Patipat Janthong)

Casinos in Thailand – too late

However, Aat Pisanvanich, director of the Center for International Trade Research at the University of Thailand’s Chamber of Commerce, believes that liberalizing casinos in Thailand is unlikely to be worth the investment because the move is considered too late.

“Thailand has been relatively slow on this issue,” said Aat. “Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore have long been investing in casinos, and Chinese investors have already made themselves known in neighboring countries.”

Aat also wondered if Thailand had conducted a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis on the issue, because as a newcomer, Thailand is unlikely to take full advantage of casinos.

Tourists peruse the menu at a restaurant near the New Mei Gao Mei (New MGM) Casino in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. (Photo: Bloomberg)

According to Aat, the goal of developing tourism and attracting revenue from tourists is unlikely to be achieved because tourists from Europe and the United States usually visit Thailand for the purpose of leisure, not for gambling.

“Chinese capital has long been invested in full-fledged casinos in our neighboring countries, whether in Laos, the Golden Triangle, or Cambodia’s Koh Kong and Sihanoukville. There are chains there that are willing to attract Chinese to their casinos, and Marina Bay Sands and The Genting Group are investors in casinos in Singapore and Malaysia, respectively,” Aat said.

“Who will invest in Thailand if we legalize casinos now? If Thai investors are willing to invest, the next question is whether Thai investors can compete with Chinese investors, who are fully endowed not only with capital but also with networks.”

According to Aat, Chinese tourists visit Thailand because they like Thailand, not gambling. Instead, Thailand should focus on developing and strengthening tourism and tourist destinations to accommodate people who go to play casinos in neighboring countries.

The Thai Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on casino legalization.

Casino legalization in Thailand – something to think about

Phisut Sae-Khu, president of the eastern branch of the Thai Hotel Association, said that if the Thai government wants to legalize casinos, it must carefully study the pros and cons of the policy and develop well-planned rules and laws to avoid any negative consequences from the start.

Phisut believes that since Pattaya is named as one of the potential destinations for a legal casino, tour operators believe this type of business could increase their revenues. However, even without a casino, Pattaya has many other tourism products to offer as it has been a world tourism destination for years. Tourism in Pattaya will not suffer if casino legalization does not happen.

“We don’t mind if the government says it’s necessary to stimulate the economy, but before introducing this policy, the local community must be assured that the business is under control and will not cause any social problems, as happened with cannabis legalization,” Phisut said.

A casino-sandbox in Thailand

The Federation of Thai Industries has proposed that the government resolve the long-running dispute over casino legalization by testing before making a decision. Seeing casinos’ potential to attract tourists and reap economic benefits, Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chairman of the industrial federation, said he was also aware of concerns about possible negative consequences.

Opponents of legal casinos include former Deputy Prime Minister Pridyathorn Devakula, who said opening casinos could lead to social problems, including rising personal debts and higher crime rates, according to media reports citing his comments.

While Thailand has been debating the issue for years, neighboring countries have moved forward with legalization and have benefited from casinos. “Even in Malaysia, where the majority of the population is Muslim, casinos are allowed,” Kriengkrai said. “In other countries, religion and casinos are treated separately. Casinos are treated as a business.”

However, Kriengkrai said it would be a good start if the Thai government first opened casinos under a sandbox scheme in one of the tourist centers, such as Pattaya, Phuket or Samui. Instead of forcing large projects such as entertainment complexes as part of a casino, the sandbox would allow the government to see what the effect would be.

Public hearings should also be held to get people’s opinions, Kriengkrai said. He supports legalizing casinos as a way to regulate gambling, reduce corruption and create a new source of tax revenue. “It’s a way to increase state revenue, but the government should enforce strict laws to prevent minors from entering casinos,” Kriengkrai said with confidence.

Kings Romans Casino on the Mekong River on the border between Thailand and Laos. (Photo: Patipat Janthong)

If laws are enacted, he said, casinos will help generate revenue to stimulate the Thai economy. This would be better than seeing Thais spend money in foreign casinos, Kriengkrai said.

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