Legal casinos no easy feat

Legal casinos no easy feat

The House's acknowledgement last week of a study creating legal gambling zones in the country sparked widespread debate about their finances and social impacts.

The legalisation of casinos may seem like a logical step for Thailand, but policymakers must tread carefully and consider all ramifications before making any decisions.

The Lower House last week endorsed a study conducted by a Lower House special committee on gambling legalisation.

The study, which was conducted last year and took 240 days to complete, shows the complexities surrounding the proposal to create casino complexes.

Because of this, the government cannot interpret the acknowledgement as a green light to legalise casinos.

The study must serve as a precursor to more debates and studies for policymakers so they can make well-informed decisions.

More noteworthy is the study proposes a new business model.

Previous studies on casinos proposed that they must be operated in prime tourism destinations, like Phuket, and select border areas.

This study, however, proposes that "integrated entertainment complexes" be built in tourist provinces nationwide.

While this expanded approach makes good business sense, it raises doubts about officials' ability to manage this gambling business in a transparent way and limit the rise of gambling addiction and money laundering.

Countries that have reaped the benefits of legalised gambling are those with good governance.

There, only world-class casino operators with clean records are given concessions, and money from operations is properly taxed and reallocated for social development.

Without good governance, Thailand's dream of becoming Macau, Singapore or Las Vegas will just be pie in the sky.

In addition, lessons drawn from neighbouring countries underscore the importance of safeguarding the interests of the local economy.

While foreign investment, particularly from China, has injected huge capital into neighbouring countries' casino industries, there have been questions about how the move benefits the local economy.

Is the casino business going to be another zero-dollar tour in which Chinese investors control the supply chain, leaving Thailand as a mere business site?

Without effective control mechanisms and transparency in investment, there is a risk that economic gains will only favour some investors.

Even worse, Thai casinos could become a new safe haven for money laundering if the government cannot regulate the financial transactions.

With news of high-ranking police being accused of money laundering via an illegal gambling site, such fears are reasonable.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin's government must not rush its casino legalisation.

Nuanced and inclusive dialogue involving all stakeholders is imperative in charting a path forward that balances economic prosperity with social responsibility.

While the potential economic benefits of casino legalisation in Thailand are enticing, they must not come at the expense of integrity, transparency and social justice.

Addressing corruption and enhancing governance are paramount to realising the full potential of this initiative and safeguarding the nation's long-term interests.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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