Will casi­nos ever be part of Thai­land’s land­scape?


Over the past week, there has been in­tense de­bate over a pro­posal to le­gal­ize casi­nos in Thai­land. The idea was floated by a group of Na­tional Re­form Coun­cil mem­bers, who called them­selves “NRC Pa­tri­ots” and ar­gued that rev­enue from casino le­gal­iza­tion could help prop up the na­tional econ­omy.

This is a hot potato, as casi­nos are gen­er­ally seen as un­ac­cept­able in Thai so­ci­ety. Pro­po­nents of casi­nos and their sup­port­ers are nor­mally viewed as sin­ners.

It is not sur­pris­ing that we do not know the iden­tity of all the NRC mem­bers who floated the idea. We just know that two of them are Anan Watcharothai and Boon­lert Kachayuthadej, as the other pro­po­nents in the NRC have kept a low pro­file over this is­sue. They are said to have been shocked by the strong so­cial op­po­si­tion against the idea, so they do not want to re­veal their iden­tity.

It has been ru­mored that this group of NRC mem­bers was in­structed by a pow­er­ful fig­ure to float the idea pub­licly. A fel­low NRC mem­ber, Sira Jen­jaka, claimed that the “NRC Pa­tri­ots” were given an or­der from a pow­er­ful fig­ure to do so in ex­change for seats in the Re­form Move­ment Coun­cil, the body which will re­place the NRC. The NRC is to be dis­solved af­ter com­plet­ing its task of vot­ing on whether to en­dorse the draft con­sti­tu­tion.

Sira said that the “deal” also in­volved an of­fer of 10 bil­lion baht to fund the set­ting up of a new po­lit­i­cal party. The ball is now in the court of the “NRC Pa­tri­ots,” who have to ex­plain them­selves against the al­le­ga­tions.

Ear­lier, ex­ec­u­tives of a world­class casino busi­ness at­tempted to meet with cer­tain pow­er­ful fig­ures in the gov­ern­ment, pos­si­bly to lobby for the es­tab­lish­ment of le­gal casi­nos in Thai­land.

There was also a sur­prise move by na­tional po­lice chief, Po­lice Gen. Somyot Poom­pan­moung, who has openly voiced sup­port for le­gal­iza­tion of casi­nos. His strong back­ing for le­gal casi­nos has drawn crit­i­cism on whether it is proper for the po­lice chief to pub­licly back an illegal busi­ness. They told him to fo­cus on tack­ling the prob­lem of po­lice ac­cept­ing bribes from illegal gam­bling dens. Some crit­ics also called for the po­lice chief to be dis­missed.

Ques­tion of Goal

Somyot re­sponded that he sim­ply pro­posed the idea and did no wrong. He said the ques­tion should be for “peo­ple all over the coun­try” to an­swer — which ap­pears to sug­gest the idea should be put to a na­tional ref­er­en­dum. This is­sue comes at a time when the coun­try is due to have a ref­er­en­dum on the draft con­sti­tu­tion. The amended pro­vi­sional char­ter al­lows two ad­di­tional ques­tions for the plebiscite, in ad­di­tion to the one that asks whether vot­ers ap­prove of the draft char­ter.

If the idea gets suf­fi­cient sup­port, there may be a ques­tion in the re­fer- en­dum as to whether vot­ers want le­gal casi­nos to be set up in Thai­land.

How­ever, be­fore go­ing straight to that “big ques­tion,” we should first try to an­swer smaller rel­e­vant ones.

First, why would we want casi­nos? Do we want money to help prop up the econ­omy? Do we want to stop the out­flow of money to casi­nos out­side the coun­try? Do we want to get rid of bribery from illegal casi­nos? Or do we want some­thing that is more man­age­able and con­trol­lable?

If those are what we want, the next ques­tion is whether le­gal­iza­tion of casi­nos would be able to meet all those needs. Would rev­enue from le­gal casi­nos be enough to help prop up the econ­omy? And isn’t this the money that is al­ready cir­cu­lat­ing in the coun­try’s eco­nomic sys­tem?

Would lo­cal gam­blers be pre­vented from try­ing their luck over­seas? Would we re­ally be able to pre­vent gam­bling money from flow­ing out of the coun­try? This might not be the case if lo­cal gam­blers faced a lot of rules to en­ter le­gal casi­nos.

If le­gal casi­nos were re­stricted to well-to-do gam­blers only, small illegal gam­bling dens would still be op­er­at­ing to meet the de­mand.

This in turn would al­low cor­rupt po­lice of­fi­cers to get bribes, as is the case at present.

Be­fore we ask the ques­tion whether casi­nos should be le­gal­ized, we should ask if we would get the ex­pected ben­e­fits. If the an­swer is yes, we could go ahead with le­gal­iz­ing casi­nos.

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