Govt”s latest gamble

Govt"s latest gamble
Govt's latest gamble
Immigration police raid an illegal casino in a hotel in Nonthaburi province in November last year. (Photo: Immigration Bureau)

Concerns have surfaced over the safety implications and broader societal effects of casino legalisation for an integrated entertainment complex project, particularly with regards to potential risks, especially among youth.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved a study proposal for a state-run integrated entertainment complex, incorporating a casino, with a vote of 253 in favour and four abstentions on Thursday.

This study, conducted by the House committee, aims to assess the feasibility of the integrated entertainment complex as part of a bid to legalise casino gambling and address issues related to illegal gambling.

Deputy Finance Minister and Chairman of the House committee, Julapun Amornvivat, said the study’s findings could be presented to the cabinet for review within the next two weeks.

However, certain academics have expressed disagreement and urged the government to devise preventive measures to mitigate the potential negative impacts associated with casinos.

SOME CONCERNS

Nualnoi Treerat, director of the centre for gambling studies, highlighted various areas of ambiguity within the House’s legislative bill concerning the definition of an entertainment complex.

She noted the uncertainty sur‑ rounding whether certain activities permitted within the complex should be categorised as gaming or casino-related.

Drawing attention to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands complex, where only 3% of the premises are designated for the casino, Ms Nualnoi highlighted the challenges faced by Singapore, including a significant percentage of residents among the visitors and the adverse effects of gambling addiction on families.

In response to these challenges, the government implemented measures such as levying special fees to limit the number of visitors and establishing committees to monitor the casino’s impact and adjust measures accordingly.

“Like Singapore, strict policies and legal limitations should be enforced in Thailand,” she suggested.

Thailand, she said, seemed to focus mainly on generating money from casinos, without thoroughly considering the negative impacts.

Ms Nualnoi also expressed her concern about the efficiency of the authorities in enforcing laws — including the restriction of people under 20.

“We often hear about the sale of alcohol to the underage, despite the law,” she said.

The bill could also add to the misconception that legal casinos will help eradicate illegal gambling dens.

“Illegal gambling will persist unless effectively regulated,” she said, adding that illegal casinos would continue due to their lower costs.

Another concern she raised involved the establishment of compensation funds for affected individuals, the sources of which remain unclear, she said.

Nualnoi: Follow Singapore model

Wasinee Sonsab, a representative of the Stop Gambling Foundation, highlighted the increasing accessibility of gambling through both online platforms and physical dens.

According to a survey by the centre for gambling studies, nearly three million individuals aged between 15 and 25 have fallen victim to gambling.

This figure does not yet include newcomers to various online platforms, estimated at around 700,000 people.

Even with the legalisation of casinos in Thailand, weak enforcement of laws raises concerns about preventing underage individuals from accessing these establishments, Ms Wasinee said.

This lax enforcement could contribute to the normalisation of gambling among children and a significant increase in the number of gamblers.

“If gambling is legalised, online platforms will become easily accessible to youths since website registration does not require age verification,” she said.

Wasinee: Gambling more accessible

RISE OF FUTURE GDP

Kosol Pattama, a Pheu Thai MP for Nakhon Ratchasima and member of the House committee, announced the formation of three sub-committees to scrutinise the legal aspects and impacts of the integrated entertainment complex project, alongside studying its business structure and tax collection methods.

He outlined the project’s components, including a department store, five-star hotel, restaurants, bars, meeting halls, health centres, sports stadiums, yacht clubs, game arcades, water parks, amusement parks, and a Thai culture and OTOP product promotion zone, as defined by the committee.

Referring to Singapore and Japan as models, the House committee plans to estimate the casino’s potential income for the country.

“We anticipate a 2% increase in gross domestic product (GDP) if funds flow into the country, leading to job creation and higher local incomes,” stated Mr Kosol.

The entertainment complex policy committee, chaired by the prime minister, will oversee legal affairs, including designating casino zones and setting regulations, fees, and other guidelines.

Mr Kosol suggested Bangkok and special economic zones like the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) as potential hosts for the entertainment complex.

However, to promote tourism and distribute income locally, he advocated developing the project in provincial areas too.

An initial study proposed that the ideal location for the project should be within 100 kilometres of Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi, and U-tapao airports, covering areas in 17 nearby provinces in the Central Plains and the East, 22 tourism-oriented provinces, and 22 provinces along borders.

Mr Kosol said that approximately 11 million tourists visited the kingdom in 2022. According to statistics from Macau, 10% of casino patrons were foreigners, with 90% of them being Chinese.

Similarly, a survey indicated that 95% of casino patrons in Cambodia were Thai, generating an estimated revenue of 12.2 billion baht, with 2.81 billion baht from foreigners and 9.45 billion baht from Thais.

The House Committee supports the legalisation of casinos to create jobs and generate revenue, he said.

“Nowadays, nearly every country has legalised casinos, and I believe this venture can stimulate our economy.

“Thailand boasts numerous tourist destinations and entertainment offerings for both Thai and foreign visitors,” he said.

He also said the tourist industry is a vital driver of the country’s economy.

The entertainment complex is expected to generate revenue from tourists, while the government can use taxes collected from the casino to fund operations aimed at curbing illegal gambling and addressing gambling addiction, thereby enhancing people’s living standards.

Kosol: 2% increase in GDP

PROS AND CONS

Pol Maj Gen Supisan Phakdee-naruenat, deputy leader of Move Forward Party (MFP) and chairman of the sub-committee studying the impact of the entertainment complex, said the study has been carried out, but is not yet complete.

Officials have been invited to discuss the impact of the complex on morality, culture, and religion.

“The entertainment complex project has the potential to bolster employment rates and impact the operations of illegal gambling dens, potentially contributing to a decrease in crime rates,” said Pol Maj Gen Supisan.

“However, it could also lead to an increase in issues such as gambling addiction, domestic violence, debt, and drug-related problems, he said.

He added that such a venture poses risks to national security, including heightened concerns regarding transnational crime, illegal labour practices, and human trafficking.

He stressed the importance of implementing age requirements for casino entry to mitigate the risk of human trafficking.

He also underscored the necessity of data analysis, public hearings, and appropriate measures to address these concerns effectively.

According to the study, there is a possibility that school curriculums may incorporate casino and other business programmes to align with the labour market demands of the entertainment complex industry.

However, such subjects may distract students from mainstream academia and lead them into illegal activities in the future.

The matter may also have an impact on mental health, learning abilities, critical thinking, and the emotions of children, he said.

The study also showed that the construction of the mega-sized complex could cause noise pollution and impact the ecosystem and environment, including deforestation and dust pollution.

Water in the area may also be contaminated from waste and chemicals.

The noise pollution caused by construction and entertainment activities may also disturb nearby residents.

Gambling and night-time entertainment venues contradict the moral beliefs of various religions, particularly Islam in Malaysia, and could potentially encourage undesirable behaviours among the populace, Pol Maj Gen Supisan said.

The project thus needs a thorough study of local norms, environmental factors, the economy and living condition of people, he said.

“The report might take some time. As this project is aimed to generate income from tourists, the related committee should set criteria, including minimum age, income and fee payments to screen them,” he added.

Supisan: Could bolster employment