Las Vegas Sands (LVS) has revealed it is in talks with an Asian government to develop a Singapore-style integrated resort (IR), but likely target Thailand retains challenging political and social obstacles.
Company chairman and CEO Rob Goldstein told the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the weekend that a “top-tier country” in Asia reached out to Las Vegas Sands to develop an IR.
Goldstein did not name the country, but said “this one feels like it might be a major prospect” and that Las Vegas Sands would “build something of scale much like Marina Bay Sands”.
Having withdrawn from the bidding process for an IR licence in Japan, the number of Asian countries that could permit local casino gambling in the foreseeable future while being large enough to sustain a multi-billion dollar IR narrows to Thailand.
Goldstein’s comments are also consistent with the Thai parliament forming, with an overwhelming 310-9 vote, an extraordinary 60-member committee in December to explore the feasibility of an IR. The committee was due to complete its study earlier this month.
The committee’s high-powered membership includes 15 Cabinet members and representatives from the major parties, raising hopes that Thailand may be shifting toward regulation of land-based casino gambling after decades of false hopes.
However, even supportive government figures such as Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam have stressed that legalisation would require a raft of complex legislation and measures to mediate problem gambling.
Other senior leaders of the de facto military-controlled regime have been less enthusiastic, with a general election likely some time in 2022.
Gaming industry analysts, meanwhile, are adopting a wait-and-see approach after multiple failed attempts to legalise casinos.
Hong Kong-based Bernstein analyst Vitaly Umansky on Monday (March 14) said in a client note that “the market potential could be substantial”.
“However, as with all gaming legalisations, the devil is in the details.”
Wissanu and supporters of reform have also acknowledged ongoing opposition to gambling in the Thai community, particularly in religious and other civic groups, sentiments backed by the most recent scholarly work on the nation’s gambling behaviour.
The 2021 annual review of Thai gambling metrics and demographics by the Center for Gambling Studies at Chulalongkorn University suggests that a majority of Thais continue to oppose land-based casinos, placing any IR proposal in a hostile sociopolitical environment similar to Japan.
Nationwide sampling of almost 7,000 people between February and April 2021 showed 54.1 percent of the population opposing land-based casinos and only 29.7 percent supporting, with the rest unsure.
Even so, the study also showed 7.7 percent of the Thai population indulged in land-based gambling at some time in 2021, or almost 4.2m people. This figure was down 16.1 percent on 2019, largely owing to pandemic restrictions.
Land-based gambling, as defined by the study, includes “gambling at home”, whereas the proportions of people gambling at fixed casinos were 0.9 percent at border casinos surrounding Thailand, 0.5 percent at illegal domestic casinos and 0.2 percent at non-border foreign casinos.