LEGALISING GAMBLING

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Too important for govt to decide alone

 

Legalising gambling dens required a full public hearing and a thorough study as the government could not make a decision without consulting the people, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said.

 

The premier said gambling was a major issue needing a people’s mandate.

 

He acknowledged a previous study on the pros of legalising gambling and the government had been receptive to the findings.

 

Mr Thaksin said the “reality” could not be overlooked, given huge foreign exchange losses because neighbouring countries operating casinos freely drew many Thai gamblers.

 

Legions of gambling dens were also scattered nationwide breeding mafia culture and corruption.

 

Mr Thaksin said many countries had brought casinos into the open so they could regulate them.

 

But he stressed no words should be put in his mouth that he endorsed legalising gambling dens.

 

Although research had pointed to advantages, an in-depth study was in order and needed before a decision could be made on whether to have public hearings.

 

Mr Thaksin said Chulalongkorn University had done research from the outset but the latest findings were released many years ago. There was a need to expand on existing research or start afresh to keep up with changing circumstances.

 

The government had paid close attention to underground businesses _ and gambling dens were only one part of that.

 

The Finance Ministry and the Government Lottery Office were trying to attract people into supporting legal lotteries so fewer would play the illegal lottery system and risk intimidation by bookies.

 

Mr Thaksin said the government would be willing to push through projects beneficial to the country even if they were met with some resistance.

 

Thaksin supports proposal to legalise Thai casinos

 

Aimed at reducing corruption and bringing illegal UFABet casinos into the tax system, the move is sure to spark a fierce debate in the country

 

BANGKOK – In a controversial proposal that is certain to ignite a fierce debate in Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday he supported the move to legalise casinos in the country.

 

‘The government is interested in legalising casinos,’ he told reporters.

 

‘Every city in Thailand has illegal casinos. Making them legal would bring those illegal casinos into the tax collection system,’ he said.

 

His statement came a day after he told members of his political party in a speech that the government planned to generate tax revenue from legalising underground lotteries and other illegal gambling activities.

 

He said the move was also aimed at reducing corruption.

 

‘If underground businesses become legal and people don’t have to bribe officials to keep their operations running, our country will progress,’ he said.

 

Legalising casinos has been on the agenda of every Thai government. But no administration has mustered the support to hand out the first gaming licence.

 

The proposal had been opposed by religious groups, the police and members of the public, who are concerned that lifting the ban would lead to a surge in prostitution, gambling addiction, loansharking and other problems.

 

Dr Pasuk Pongpaichit, author of Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja, who takes a hardline, said: ‘Gambling transfers money from the poor to the rich – from a mass of often poor punters to a handful of rich entrepreneurs’.

 

But there are a growing number of Thais who believe differently.

 

Government MP Kobsak Chutikul, member of a parliamentary committee set up to study the issue, told The Straits Times: ‘We have studied it from all angles and there are more pros than cons.’

 

Among the benefits: Raising tax revenue, reducing the outflow of funds abroad and curbing police corruption.

 

He believed the potential problems could be managed with adequate measures like locating casinos away from schools and temples and selective admission of gamblers.

 

According to reports, there are about 20 casinos operating just outside the Thai border with neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

 

Within the country, there are an estimated 400 illegal gambling dens, many apparently operating under official protection.

 

It has been estimated that the gambling industry in Thailand is worth about 400 billion baht (S$16.9 billion) a year, or 7 per cent of the national gross domestic product.

 

Thailand has chalked up a huge budget deficit, the fifth straight year in which government spending has surpassed revenue.

 

The potential income that could be generated from taxing legalised casinos could make a significant contribution to the national coffers, claimed pro-gambling supporters.

 

Mr Thaksin’s support was expected to generate strong interest. He had wavered in the past when asked to state his position.

 

Mr Sanoh Thienthong, a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, has proposed that the country’s first casino be located in Pattaya, a seaside tourist resort, which is about an hour’s drive from Bangkok.