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Legal casinos for Thailand? Police chief says "yes"

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The idea of legalising casinos, long debated but never adopted, is back in the news after National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang joined 12 National Reform Council members in supporting its implementation

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A police officer descends a ladder from the roof of the notorious Tao Poon casino in Bang Sue district in April 2013. Officers had to gain access to the illegal casino from the roof after they were faced with heavily fortified entry points on the ground. Despite police efforts to stamp it out, National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang says illegal gambling is rampant. PATTARAPONG CHATPATTARASILL

Legal casinos for Thailand?

The idea of legalising casinos in Thailand, an issue debated for decades, came back to life recently. A group of 12 members of the National Reform Council (NRC) proposed that the country follow the lead of its neighbours Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia and begin with a legal casino in Pattaya.

As usual, the arguments were economic: casinos would draw tourists, create jobs and generate vast amounts of revenue for the government, taking it away from casinos in neighbouring countries and from the thriving network of underground casinos inside Thailand itself.

The idea seemed to die even before gambling opponents could point out the social problems that inevitably accompany legalised gambling. NRC chairman Thienchay Kiranandana said his body was not going to consider the gambling issue.

Yesterday, however, it was back in the news in a big way when National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang came out in support of legalised gambling – with strict conditions.

Here is an excerpt from today's story in the Bangkok Post

National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang says he would be happy to be the first police chief to help implement the controversial idea of legalising casinos in Thailand. JIRAPORN KUHAKAN

Police chief lends support to legalising casinos

POST REPORTERS

National police chief Somyot Poompunmuang has weighed in on a proposal to legalise casinos, but suggests curbs be imposed on who can enter.

Months ahead of his retirement from the force, Pol Gen Somyot said Wednesday he would be happy to be the first police chief to implement the controversial idea. He appears to envisage a string of regional casinos, which he said should be open to people only with means and not to residents of the local area.

A Bangkok resident could not try his luck in a Bangkok casino, but would have to travel further afield such as Phuket, on the basis he would be bringing in income from a different area. In any event, he said all players must have "strong" finances, to help guard against poor people ending up even poorer as a result of gambling losses.

A 2008 photo of the Paradise casino in Myanmar just across from Chiang Rai. THEERAWAT KHAMTHITA

Pol Gen Somyot said that one month before his mandatory retirement at the end of September, he will call the media to declare his support for the proposed legalisation of casinos, and launch a personal website to gauge public opinion.

Pol Gen Somyot said Thailand has all it takes to run casinos – good food and tourist attractions, and advanced entertainment and shopping complexes.

He has also addressed concerns about the impact of gambling addiction and possible gambling-related crimes. Pol Gen Somyot said a database of gamblers would be set up with all people entering casinos being photographed and registered.

Taxes from casinos could be spent on education and social affairs, he said, adding he is not intimidated by opposition from civic groups campaigning against gambling and vice. Without legalised casinos, illegal gambling is rampant, he said.

Pro-casino NRC member Anan Watcharothai said Wednesday he would continue to push ahead with the idea as long as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and NRC chairman Thienchay Kiranandana do not put the brakes on it. The prime minister says the government has no stance on the issue and the public should decide.

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