Sommai backs casinos in complexes
MR Pridiyathorn says they cause social harm
Finance Minister Sommai Phasee has thrown his support behind casinos in entertainment complexes, as long as they are strictly regulated.
During a radio interview on FM 97 Monday, Mr Sommai said some countries make money from Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition (Mice) tourism in which large numbers of visitors gather together for a specific purpose such as conferences.
When they unwind, visitors have the option of going shopping although 80% of them do not want to shop but take time out and relax in a casino, he said.
Measures could be implemented to prevent low-income people entering casinos in Thailand, while many Thai people go overseas to gamble, Mr Sommai said.
"We lose more than we gain letting people spend their money somewhere else. Other countries have taken our people's money," the finance minister said.
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However, he disagreed with allowing gambling parlours and casinos to spring up freely.
"I disagree with allowing Mr This and Mrs That to run a casino. But if we open a large entertainment complex, that's another story," he said.
The government must spell out what it wants to do regarding the idea of casinos before the issue is put to a referendum.
His opinion mirrors that of national police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang, who has come under fire for saying he backs legalising casinos "one million per cent".
Making casinos legal was first proposed by a group of 12 National Reform Council (NRC) members, led by Maj Anan Watcharothai.
The NRC members proposed Thailand follow the lead of its neighbours and open a casino in Pattaya. They argued a casino would draw tourists, create jobs and revenue for the government.
It would also divert business away from illegal gambling den owners, they said.
Mr Sommai said an entertainment complex should be strictly controlled such as in Singapore where locals are charged a high entrance fee, which deters Singaporeans on low incomes.
However, Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula on Monday voiced opposition to legalising casinos, saying they would cause social problems, including rising personal debt, corruption and a higher crime rate.
The casino business itself does not suffer losses but gamblers will be driven deeper into debt, he said, adding gambling is not regarded as a Mice activity.
According to MR Pridiyathorn, fewer than 20% of gamblers win money at casinos.
He also wondered whether authorities could enforce regulations to allow only the rich to gamble in the casinos.
MR Pridiyathorn admitted he met representatives from Las Vegas Sands Corp, the US casino and resort operating company, a couple of months ago. They proposed investing in an entertainment complex with a casino.
"I told them I could support investment in an entertainment complex but not one with a casino," he said.
Political Development Council chairman Thiraphat Serirangsan said the national police chief should be sacked for backing casinos. Pol Gen Somyot has a duty to fight, not back, gambling, he said.
He also rejected the police chief's argument casinos would limit the influence of illegal gambling dens, saying the police have not been able to close them down.