A proposal to legalize casinos in Thailand has met with a mixed response from the country’s power brokers.
Earlier this week, a dozen members of the country’s National Reform Council (NRC) proposed authorizing casinos in tourist areas like Pattaya and Phuket to keep Thai citizens from having to cross the border into Cambodia to gamble. The pro-casino group – whose membership has reportedly grown to 25 – also stressed the tax revenue potential of a legal casino market.
The proposal has met with the approval of national police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang, who plans to launch a website to gauge public sentiment on the casino issue. Somyot also suggested a national referendum might not be a bad idea.
Somyot told reporters that he supports the idea of allowing local residents to access the casinos, provided they can demonstrate “strong finances.” However, Somyot suggested that only gamblers from outside the region in which a particular casino is based should be allowed entry. Somyot would also like to see every casino patron photographed and included in a central database of gamblers.
Somyot dismissed casino critics who base their opposition on Buddhist beliefs, saying illegal gambling was “rampant” in the country and causes “a lot of problems for police … We can’t deny the fact that Thai people hold to a culture of gambling.” Sadly, Somyot is due for mandatory retirement in September, which may help explain his willingness to back the proposal, since he won’t be around to kick if things go wrong.
Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, a member of the NRC pro-casino group, suggested the minimum age for casino entry should be 30 years old and any Thai resident looking to gain entry would need to prove a minimum monthly salary of Bt 300k (US $8,900), which is more than 20x the current average monthly wage. Sungsidh also suggested a Singapore-style entry levy would be appropriate.
The NRC pro-casino group claims that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha isn’t openly opposed to the idea, although the PM’s enthusiasm is limited to saying the government “has no stance on this issue.”
NRC president Thienchay Kiranandana was far less ambiguous, saying the casino issue “is not on our plan … [The NRC] won’t have enough time to consider a new issue so it will be left to the next reform panel.”
Undeterred, the pro-casino group says it intends to continue its study of the issue and submit a report to Thienchay and the cabinet early in July.