02/09/2022, 00.00
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Green light for casinos

by Steve Suwannarat

The idea first emerged in December, but several civil society groups oppose it. A special committee is called to report on the economic benefits and social repercussions of casinos. Domestic and international developments, such as Macau’s crisis, could help the initiative.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Last December, the Thai government announced that it was setting up a 60-member committee to consider plans to build a number of casinos across the country. Last week, the government gazette made the decision official.

Despite the government’s initiative, casinos remain controversial in Thailand; nevertheless, they are seen by many in the business community as a way to jumpstart the post-pandemic economic recovery and attract foreign visitors, far and wide.

So far, religious and ethical considerations against gambling in the predominantly Buddhist country have stilled government action.

Many civil society groups oppose gambling because of its negative impact on communities near casinos, which usually become dens of corruption, money laundering and human exploitation.

The cities selected to host casinos include Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the north, Udon Thani and Ubon Ratchathani in the north-east, and Pattaya and Chonburi in the east.

The committee, chaired by Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate, has 90 days to submit a cost-benefit analysis of the impact of casinos on the country’s economy, job market and image.

Gambling and betting are currently illegal in Thailand, except for the state lottery and horse racing. As opponents note, casinos have been excluded so far because of concerns over their questionable morality as well as the difficulty of regulating and taxing their activities.

If this led to the failure of previous initiatives, the latest attempt to open gamgling facilities seems to be in a better position.

The country’s domestic situation, the international context and the interests of potential investors might succeed where others have failed.

Developments in neighbouring Cambodia and especially Macau seem to favour Thailand.

The former Portuguese colony, once touted as a potential rival to Las Vegas, is under increasing pressure from mainland China.

For Chinese authorities, the gambling industry in the Special Administrative Region has too many grey areas affecting social cohesion and loopholes favouring capital flight and money laundering.

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