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Struggling to revive its economy in a post-pandemic world, Thailand took a significant step in June by decriminalizing cannabis, becoming the first country in Asia to do so. To capitalize on the fast-growing gaming industry in Asia, the government now plans to allow casinos to operate in select venues.
On Wednesday, a parliamentary committee submitted a report to the Parliament recommending “entertainment complexes” housing legally operating casinos in all the major cities in the country. The committee stated that casinos could help transform the country’s economy by attracting travelers and foreign investment.
Vice Chairman of the committee, Pichet Chuamuangphan, told media outlets – “We’re focused on attracting foreigners to step up tourism and draw more money out of their pockets. This will also stem the outflow of money from Thai gamblers and help the government collect hefty taxes for our economic security.”
According to Chuamuangphan, a lawmaker from the Pheu Thai Party, Greater Bangkok would be the perfect place to start. In time, the government can permit such entertainment complexes in southern provinces like Phuket, Krabi, and Phang Nga, or tourist spots like Chiang Mai and Chonburi.
The proposal envisages levying a 30% tax on casino revenues and projects an approximate revenue generation of 400 Billion Baht ($11 Billion) annually.
The Legal Process
Most forms of betting are illegal in Thailand, and the same is instituted under the Thailand Gambling Act of 1935. However, the legislation has a provision that grants the government powers to issue decrees or licenses for permitting gambling at select venues.
Although gambling is presently illegal in Thailand, illicit casinos thrive in Bangkok and several other provincial towns. The country has a tradition of betting on bullfights, cockfights, and boat races. A gambling act was introduced in 1930, and the government, led by Khuang Aphaiwong, moved to legalize gambling. But massive public and media opposition forced the government to clamp down on gambling again, bringing a revised act in 1935.
While online gaming remains illegal in Thailand, the government has realized it needs to bring the illegally operating casino sector into the taxable zone, and casinos can be a way to revive the country’s economy.
Last month, when cannabis was decriminalized, the parliamentary committee suggested that the government permit five casino resorts across the country to drive economic development in key cities. In their latest recommendations, the committee borrowing a leaf from Japan, want to set up integrated “entertainment zones” for casinos.
While casinos will focus on attracting foreign nationals, Thai nationals aged 20 and older with a minimum bank balance of THB 500,000 would be permitted to gamble.
The Parliament will review the recommendations and decide on a recourse before going on a recess in September. If the recommendations are approved, the government will create a decree to sidestep the gambling law, opening the country’s doors to casino goers.