Thai Parliament Committee To Explore Casino Liberalisation

December 7, 2021
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Thailand’s parliament has established an extraordinary committee with cross-party membership to examine the feasibility of an “entertainment complex” containing a major casino.

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Thailand’s parliament has established an extraordinary committee with cross-party membership to examine the feasibility of an “entertainment complex” containing a major casino.

The House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to establish the 60-member committee, consisting of 15 Cabinet representatives and 45 other parliamentarians, Thai-language media and The Bangkok Post reported on Saturday (December 4).

Inclusive of public hearings, the committee will meet on Thursday, set up at least four sub-committees and complete its study in 90 days, the reports said.

Driven by proposals from numerous members of parliament, who cite the need to combat underground gambling and economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic, the committee’s work will represent the most substantial legislative effort to create a legal casino industry in the country in decades.

Previous governments have floated the liberalisation of casino gambling. Most aggressively during the ill-fated administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

But they failed on every occasion to muster enough legislative support to overcome popular opposition in a chronically volatile political environment.

This is despite enduring sympathy for regulation among progressive voices in academia, the media and even parts of a police force regularly accused of shielding underground casinos.

This time, however, it is Thailand’s leaders that are sending mixed signals, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and at least two deputy prime ministers attributing the push to local political interests and declining to express outright support.

Deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam last week warned that, in addition to likely fervent pushback from religious and other civic groups, the House of Representatives committee will need to address substantial legal reforms and the logistics of regulation and taxation.

As with Japan’s integrated resort campaign, support for casinos in Thai media primarily invokes the foreign market.

But Thailand has long been seen as a potentially major domestic market by international operators such as Las Vegas Sands, which has visited Bangkok and other locations in Thailand over the years to promote its wares.

With China cracking down hard on those of its nationals who gamble overseas, Thailand’s prospects today for a viable regulated casino industry are even more rooted in domestic demand.

This reality has been acknowledged by Thai commentators, who are arguing this week that a casino industry would reduce demand for both the nation’s ubiquitous underground operations and online gambling.

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