Thailand’s long-standing resistance to the legalisation of gambling and casinos looks like it will be consigned to the past after a proposal to create a review committee to look into reforming existing policy passed with no objections from Members of Parliament.
Currently, Thailand legislation prohibits ‘land-based’ casinos under the Gambling Act 1935, limiting betting to horse racing and government-sanctioned lotteries.
The 60-strong committee will investigate existing policies and evaluate the potential of entertainment complexes with integrated casinos to boost the economy and tourism with a suggested 30 per cent tax on licensed premises, which could raise up to 100 billion baht (US$3 billion) per year.
The new legislation would also permit sports betting, online gambling and speculation on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
According to the Bangkok Post, the complexes would be located in five possible spots drawing from either Pattaya and Bangkok in central Thailand; Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north; Udon Thani, Ubon Ratchathani or Khon Kaen in north-east Thailand; and Krabi or Phuket in southern Thailand.
However, there has been some pushback from the travel and tourism industry.
Association of Thai Travel Agents president, Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, through the Bangkok Post, expressed his concerns about the corruption that often comes with legalising gambling and that the entertainment complexes would be the preserve of only small groups of operators.
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, the Phuket Tourist Association’s advisory chairman, also commented that the island does not need to add casinos to its infrastructure because it is already well-positioned as a popular destination for international tourists, with plenty of unique selling points.
Bhummikitti, instead, suggested that entertainment complexes should be limited to second-tier cities to drive up tourism for the rest of the country.
The development shows the urgency of Thailand’s need to rebuild its economy as it flip-flops between the goal of becoming a high-end luxury destination for affluent travellers and focusing away from backpackers and economy tourists – and comes hot on the heels of last year’s controversial relaxation of cannabis laws and the recent announcement of permanently extended opening hours for bars and clubs.