The Thai government could raise significant tax revenue from allowing a legal gambling industry to grow but must consider the social impacts and better control existing illegal activities, experts say.
As Thai decision-makers mull a move to legalise gambling in the country by opening its own casinos at Singapore-style integrated resorts and allowing online betting sites too, experts have warned of the need to install carefully considered guardrails on any future gaming industry.
These measures may include adopting something similar to Singapore’s model where restrictions are placed on local players via measures such as entry levies and exclusionary orders to bar their visits to casinos at integrated resorts, and keeping online gambling outlawed for now.
But there are deeper concerns that without tackling illegal gambling that continues to thrive in Thailand’s border towns and on the internet, legal casinos would simply provide additional opportunities for people to bet.
An ad-hoc 60-member committee to study legalising gambling and casinos at what it describes as entertainment complexes was established by the Thai parliament late last year.
The committee has support from members of parliament both in government and opposition. The chair is Mr Julapun Amornvivat, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Finance.
The legalisation of the industry could place Thailand in direct competition with some of its regional neighbours for gambling-related tourism revenue. In Southeast Asia, apart from Thailand, the only countries that ban gambling are Indonesia and Brunei.
Big overseas industry players are expected to be lining up to win licences to operate casinos in Thailand. Las Vegas Sands, which owns Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, as well as MGM Resorts are companies that have expressed potential interest in doing so.
Legalising gambling would follow other recent measures the Thai government has launched to draw visitors and raise revenue, including allowing later opening hours for nightclubs and bars in tourist areas, relaxing visa requirements for key international markets, dropping sales tax levies on alcohol and permitting the cannabis industry to proliferate.
Government revenue raising has been framed as a leading reason to allow casinos to operate. A report by a previous committee on the issue in the last parliament found that billions of dollars could be raised in taxes annually, under a proposal to open entertainment complexes in each of the country’s five main regions: north, south, east, northeast and central.
Several other types of gambling could also be permitted, including online, sports, stock exchange index and foreign exchange rate betting.