Poll claims Thailand residents want legal casinos; Cambodia junket murder mystery

pailin-flamingo-casino-junket-murder-mysteryThailand should legalize casino gaming to boost government revenue and eliminate the need for Thai gamblers to travel abroad, according to the results of a new survey.

Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation, held a press conference on Thursday to reveal the results of a survey of 2,500 Thai residents on the question of casino gambling. Sungsidh claims the survey found broad support for legalizing casinos, particularly among middle-income earners.

According to local media reports, Sungsidh further claimed that legal casinos would boost Thailand’s international tourism by 40–50%. Quite apart from the tourism boost, Sungsidh believes the government stands to collect an additional THB 100b (US $2.8b) per year simply by licensing and taxing casinos.

Sungsidh also presented the findings of two other studies on the casino question, one of which held up Singapore’s regulatory model as a good template, particularly for its requirement that local residents demonstrate the financial capacity to endure gambling losses.

The survey’s results stand in contrast to polls conducted last summer that showed only minority support for legalizing casinos in Thailand. Government officials have floated the casino idea every few years, most recently last June, when national police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang endorsed a National Reform Council proposal that ultimately went nowhere.

With no legal casino options at home, many Thai gamblers patronize casinos in Cambodian border towns. But Thai media is currently awash with negative stories regarding the untimely end of a Thai businessman with Cambodian casino ties.

Last Sunday, Cambodian police in Pailin province reported finding a shallow grave containing the bullet-ridden body of Somnuek Jaroonjirasathian (pictured), a Thai national who reportedly ran a junket business that steered gamblers to the the Pailin Flamingo Casino.

Cambodia Daily quoted casino owner Warut Wannaiamphikun saying Somnuek, who hadn’t been seen since leaving the casino on the night of Feb. 13, had recently complained about a THB 32m ($900k) debt he claimed to be owed by a junket partner.

After Somnuek went missing, his wife tried calling his mobile phone. The unidentified woman who answered claimed Somnuek couldn’t come to the phone, after which a male voice told the woman to hang up. Authorities say the phone’s signal was tracked to Poipet, another Cambodian border casino town around 50 kilometers away.

Cambodian and Thai police are cooperating in the investigation. The Nation reported that two arrests had been made in relation to Somnuek’s murder while the Bangkok Post claimed no arrests had been made.