Seek casino referendum
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Seek casino referendum

If the Srettha government is to proceed with its plan to build entertainment complexes with casinos, it must first seek a referendum.

On Monday, the cabinet endorsed a special House committee report on legalising such contentious complexes, which will be built in several tourist provinces. Rather than using state money, the government is to invite the private sector to invest in the project.

The plan is mostly welcomed by people in the business sector, hoping it will help boost tourism and the economy. The government has also claimed that the legalisation of casinos will help solve underground gambling that is widespread in the country. Yet others, including a group of university academics, are profoundly against casino legalisation, which, in their opinion, could do more harm than good.

According to Deputy Finance Minister Julapun Amornvivat, the prime minister has instructed the Ministry of Finance to organise public consultations and public hearings about the plan within 30 days. After that, the ministry will assign a specific agency to draft a bill and propose it to parliament.

Mr Julapun said that unless there are major obstacles, he believes the complexes could be opened within three years before the Pheu Thai-led coalition government ends its term.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has vigorously pushed for the contentious complexes, citing Singapore's successful experience in promoting a similar plan: the city-state has drawn more than 300 billion baht in investment, while the Singaporean government can earn over 20 billion baht in tax revenue every year, and over 20,000 jobs were created.

Indeed, that looks tempting.

However, questions remain, particularly about whether casinos can really serve as economic stimuli or if they are to siphon ordinary people's money to casino owners. Besides, it's quite unclear if the income from casinos would be distributed to the poor, with economic benefits reaching the grassroots. The study report suggested while casinos can lead to job creation, income distribution and cash flow in the economic system, income from casinos accounts for 5% of such complexes, which means the government would be able to earn handsome revenues from the complexes without casinos.

More importantly, as casinos target only wealthy tourists, it means lower-income people will still go to illegal gambling dens as before, and society will continue to see gambling-related debts, crime, and robberies, among others. With regard to social maladies, disadvantages outdo advantages.

In fact, the government need not be worried if it backtracks on its casino plan, given that it has never enlisted legalised casinos as one of its flagship policies. Nor did it submit entertainment complex plans to the Election Commission for consideration during the election campaign.

At the same time, the government should not try to justify casino legalisation by citing the parliamentary committee report, like the way it previously did with the controversial Land Bridge project that the prime minister tried to promote during his trips abroad, resulting in a public outcry.

When it comes to casino legalisation, public hearings that involve only groups of people are not enough. Instead, the government should allow the public to have a say in this plan by having a referendum, which is possible under the charter.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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