Thailand again considers legalizing casinos to boost foreign visitor number

By Reuters   March 15, 2024 | 03:18 pm PT
Thailand again considers legalizing casinos to boost foreign visitor number
Tourists visit the Big Buddha statue in Phuket, Thailand, July 3, 2023. Photo by Reuters
Thailand is again considering legalizing casinos to draw investment and tourism, a study submitted to the House of Representative on Friday showed, but such proposals have been losing bets in the past because of public disapproval.

The only gambling allowed in Thailand is on state-controlled horse races and the lottery. But at least 10% of Thais are addicted to gambling, the study, by a 60-member committee of government and opposition lawmakers, said.

Many in the industry believe a legal casino market in Thailand would be a huge success in drawing overseas visitors, providing strong competition for the world's biggest gambling hub Macau, the only place in China where citizens can legally gamble in casinos.

Legalization of gambling has been discussed in the past but no government has gone ahead due to public opposition. In a 2021 opinion poll, 46.51% opposed legalized gambling due to moral and crime concerns, while 21.25% were supportive.

The previous parliament approved a similar study last year but the house was dissolved before the cabinet could consider it.

Under the proposals in the study, seen by Reuters, private companies would shoulder the cost of construction and operation of entertainment complexes comprising casinos while the government would be responsible for taxing and regulation, Sorawong Thienthong, vice chairman of the parliamentary committee, told Reuters.

"Thai and foreign companies with experience on this will be responsible for most of the investment," he said.

Sorawong said an estimated minimum investment for a large complex would be 100 billion baht ($2.79 billion).

A draft law on the casino idea is included in the study which will need parliamentary approval before it is forward to the cabinet for consideration.

No number of entertainment complexes or their location are specified but the committee recommended that a complex should be in a main tourist destination and within 100 km (60 miles) of an airport.

Sorawong said the study could be considered for parliament approval on March 28.

"We want to conclude the law and start selling licences to investors within this government," he said.

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