The opening of casinos is looking a sure betOn November 27, 2021 by Jerome Diggs
The opening of casinos is looking a sure bet
The forces of influence are increasingly getting behind the opening of a legal casino in Thailand, more likely than not in Pattaya.
The renewed interest in the legalisation of casinos and the momentum the proposal is gathering suggest the Thai people may soon no longer have to traipse across our borders to Burma, Cambodia or Malaysia for a flutter.
Increasingly we hear the supporting arguments: increased revenue from tourism, curbs on the money flowing out of the country, and indirect controls on sources of funding for political parties.
Pattaya, the resort capital of the eastern seaboard, has emerged as the clear favourite to house the first casino as it has the backing of politicians and influential associates.
Also favouring a legal casino is Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s undertaking to bring shadowy businesses into the legitimate sphere so more money can be tapped from tourism.
The public are now repeatedly being bombarded with arguments suggesting a casino in Pattaya has huge potential. Its main backers are a group of entrepreneurs in government and their powerful associates like Somchai Khunpluem, the mayor of Bang Saen in Chon Buri widely known as Kamnan Poh.
Kamnan Poh insists Pattaya is the ideal location for Thailand’s first ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล casino. He wants it built at Ambassador City Jomtien Hotel.
There are also interested parties overseas, in Las Vegas, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Las Vegas connection is favoured as it is thought to have more experience in casino operations.
Almost 1,000 rai in central Pattaya is also being considered for a horse track and amusement park.
The momentum has even caught up the prime minister, who says a casino here would be world class and would be manageable similar to Las Vegas. But he is not rushing into anything and has called for studies and public hearings before pushing ahead.
Kamnan Poh, the father of Tourism and Sports Minister Sonthaya Khunpluem, said the best way to generate income amid the economic downturn was to find ways to attract more foreign tourists by showing them Thailand was a safe destination with plenty of interest to outsiders.
Kamnan Poh and friends and the prime minister’s own advisers led by Sanoh Thienthong have long pushed for a casino in Pattaya.
A survey they conducted in Chon Buri in October found nearly 60,000 local residents in support of the project. Figures were unavailable for those opposed
A majority of the respondents supposedly said the casino would attract more foreign tourists to the area, stem money outflows, generate income, and prevent the laundering of money earned through illegal operations.
The prime minister was notified of the survey results but he reportedly told his advisers to sit on the project for the time being.
The mood is thought to have swung even further in favour of legal casinos, especially given the repeated reports of the police’s failure to crack down on illegal gambling dens while raking off at least 10 million baht a month for themselves from every gambling den in Bangkok alone.
It became blindingly clear that illegal gambling is a major contributor to corruption when Pol Lt-Col Santhana Prayoonrat, a former Special Branch Bureau 4 deputy chief, revealed details of 11 gambling dens in Bangkok and seven Thai-owned casinos across the border in Cambodia. He also accused state officials of receiving 7.5 million baht a month from casinos in Cambodia.
Pol Lt-Col Santhana came out in public after he was sacked from the force in November for obstructing a police raid on a gambling den.
Government-sponsored research into gambling conducted by Chulalongkorn University economists headed by Sangsit Piriyarangsan also appears to support the legalising of casinos.
The study found that between 500 and 800 billion baht passes through the illegal gambling business in Thailand each year and 71-84 billion baht is spent by Thai gamblers at casinos in neighbouring and other countries.
The research found that gambling had become more widespread and was causing many people financial problems since 2001, when around 40 million Thais dabbled in one or more of 15 types of gambling and spent more than 9,000 baht each.
The money channelled through gambling amounts to almost 40% of the local economy.
The study also found a direct link between gambling and politics as most of the money used to buy votes and support different politicians came from gambling.
Statistics show that police officers were paid between 6.67 and 13.65 billion baht in 2001 for turning a blind eye to or even aiding gambling.
Other studies propose that casinos be legalised only after the police force has been reformed to do away with corruption.
Some research suggests that the legalising of casinos would benefit politics overall by cutting off the supply of funds for vote-buying and by preventing politicians and state officials from benefiting from illegal operations.
One paper found that there were 3,201 casinos being run lawfully in 133 countries, and case studies had shown that these had helped to promote tourism and increase state earnings from taxation.
On the other side of the coin, there are fears a legal casino could fuel crime, immorality and social problems, causing added personal debt and opening new channels of corruption.
Some people say casinos should be operated by public companies and be managed openly to prevent a monopoly.
Research by a House of Representatives committee came to conclusions similar to those of Mr Sangsit’s team
With the prime minister leaning towards the opening of a legal casino and the tourism minister clearly favouring the eastern seaboard as a centre of sports and entertainment, Pattaya clearly is odds on favourite to become the home of betting in Thailand.
There is also the matter, say the critics, of a casino generating income for the Thai Rak Thai party and cutting off supplies to its rival Democrat party.
And, of course, if successful, why stop at one casino in Pattaya? Might not Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok also benefit from such a facility?