Thailand Reconsiders Legalizing Casinos to Attract Tourists

The Thai government is reviewing a proposal to legalize casinos, as revealed in a report presented to the House of Representatives. Despite the historical resistance from the public against gambling, which currently is limited to state-controlled horse racing and the national lottery, this move could potentially transform Thailand into a premier destination for international tourists, rivaling the likes of Macau, the foremost gambling center in China.

The findings of the report, crafted by a bipartisan committee of 60 members, underscore a notable interest in gambling within Thailand, pointing out that around 10% of the population suffers from gambling addiction. Advocates for legalizing casinos argue that it would not only curb illegal gambling but also significantly boost tourism by attracting gamblers who would otherwise head to Macau or other gambling destinations.

However, public sentiment has been a major barrier to past efforts to legalize gambling, with a 2021 survey indicating that 46.51% of respondents opposed such measures due to concerns over morality and crime, while only 21.25% were in favor. Despite these challenges, the idea has resurfaced in political discussions, although no government has yet taken definitive action to legalize casinos.

The current proposal outlines a model where private enterprises would bear the costs of constructing and managing casino-based entertainment complexes, with the government overseeing taxation and regulatory measures. Sorawong Thienthong, the vice-chairman of the parliamentary committee, mentioned to reporters that both Thai and international companies with relevant experience are expected to lead the investment efforts, estimating the minimum investment for a sizable complex at around 100 billion baht ($2.79 billion).

A preliminary draft law included in the report suggests that these entertainment complexes should be located in prime tourist spots, ideally within 100 kilometers of an airport, to maximize accessibility for international visitors. The proposal is poised for parliamentary review on March 28, with ambitions to expedite the legislation process and begin issuing licenses to investors within the tenure of the current government, as stated by Mr. Sorawong.

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