Casino plan draws House opposition

Casino plan draws House opposition

Democrat MP warns of social problems

The opposition Democrat Party on Sunday voiced strong opposition to government plans to legalise casinos by incorporating them into entertainment complexes, with a bill by the Pheu Thai-led government already said to be at the drafting stage.

"Personally, I think it would be better for the government to support traditional [betting] games such as cow fighting, cockfighting, fish fighting, Hi-Lo board games and funeral card games," said Chaichana Detdacho, a Democrat MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat and deputy party leader, on Sunday.

He was responding to the House of Representatives' unanimous approval last Thursday of a new House study into the feasibility of Thailand legalising casinos.

He said that contrary to what many thought, casinos may bring more problems than rewards, as overseas experience had shown.

The government should have looked at what happened in overseas countries which legalised casinos, in terms of social problems and whether their tax revenue rose as significantly as expected, he said. Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have all seen tax revenue decrease, not increase, he said.

All the same, the US, Europe, Britain, Australia and several other countries have all suffered a number of problems from legalising casinos, he said. "Years after legalisation, these nations have all realised that it was not to be the case as previously thought that legal casinos would help eliminate underground gambling activities, as most of the patrons of the legal casinos are new gamblers," Mr Chaichana said.

The crime rate in these countries has also escalated, while people as young as 15 to 17 now have easy access to gambling, he said, adding these countries have also found that the investment required ahead of casino legalisation wasn't worth it when the revenue gained from the process finally came trickling in.

Profits from running a legal casino have mostly been reaped by private investors in these countries, he said.

Worse still, several countries whose citizens now top Thailand's chart of international visitors have clearly said they would be left with no choice but to limit the number of visitors to Thailand if the country legalises casinos, according to Mr Chaichana.

Hence, while the Thai government's new legalisation plan will require up to 300 billion baht in funding, as estimated by one recent study, there's no point in pushing ahead with the format used by other countries as it is likely that Thailand will only end up suffering from the same pitfalls.

"Legalising Thai traditional games for recreational purposes while strictly controlling these activities and collecting a fee for allowing occasional betting during these games, such as at a funeral, will help generate additional revenue while not causing any new problems," he said.

Also, the underground lottery which is illegal yet available everywhere should instead be legalised and operated by the government in the same way as the official lottery, if the government really aims to generate more revenue, he said.

Even though Democrats have not yet reached a resolution against the government's casino legalisation push, most party MPs and members apparently share a common opinion against the move, he said.

Suchatvee Suwansawat, a deputy Democrat leader, urged the government to study it more carefully before rushing ahead with the plan, saying it had better learn from mistakes in the decriminalisation of cannabis.

If the government is to copy Singapore's casino legalisation model, it should have started with educating people and preparing them well to brace for the possible negative impact of legalising casinos as Singapore did, he said.

"After all, we have numerous beautiful beaches, other tourist attractions and culture which are far more deserving of promotion as a means of attracting more tourists," he said.

"Thailand isn't a small island which has to find something new like gambling to lure visitors."

Kosol Pattama, a Pheu Thai MP for Nakhon Ratchasima in his capacity as chairman of the House's sub-committee studying the proposal, meanwhile, said that a new bill on entertainment complexes will likely be submitted to the House for deliberation in the next parliamentary session.

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