Thailand Closer to Legal Casinos

Lawmakers in Thailand are now reviewing a House study on legal casinos that could lead to integrated resorts in select regions around the country. For now, citizens who want to bet legally patronize casinos across the border in Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia.

Thailand Closer to Legal Casinos

Last week, the parliament of Thailand received a study on the efficacy of legal casinos and online gaming in the country. The issue is a controversial one in the kingdom, where resistance based on religious reasons could be a barrier. A reported 95 percent of Thai residents practice Buddhism, a faith that frowns on gambling.

For now, Thai gamblers who want to gamble legally can visit casinos in bordering countries where the activity is legal: Laos, Malaysia and Cambodia. Of 26 people confirmed killed last month in a casino fire in Poipet, Cambodia, just across the border from Thailand, 19 were Thai nationals. Six other Thai customers remain among the missing.

According to GGRAsia, in 2020 the Thai parliament formed a committee to study the matter and compile a feasibility report. Its tongue-twister of a name pretty much sums up its purpose and end goal: the Ad-hoc Committee on the Consideration of the Opening of Entertainment Complex, the Collection of Revenue and Taxes from the Legal Casino, the Prevention and the Solution of Illegal Gambling, Widespread Electric Gambling Machines and Online Gambling.

In July 2022, in a report to the National Assembly, committee members recommended that the government OK “entertainment complexes” with casino gaming in several locations around the country. The most popular target site would be the Greater Bangkok area, areas inside Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor, such as Pattaya and Rayong, or a border region with permanent immigration checkpoints, including Phuket, Phangnga, Krabi and Chiang Mai.

The resorts would include five-star hotels, shopping districts, amusement parks, indoor and outdoor sports arenas, zoos and other attractions. The casino would not exceed 5 percent of gross floor area. According to the plan, the resorts would be developed as joint public-private investments and run as “special administrative zones,” local media report.

The Bangkok Post said the study seeks impressive budgets, “bigger than a similar project undertaken in Singapore,” a reference to that city’s massive integrated resorts, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, which both came with a multibillion-dollar price tag.

If casinos are legalized, Thai nationals of 21 or older would be able to enter and gamble, provided they can verify a minimum of THB500,000 (US$15,000) in bank account funds. The casinos would also be open to foreigners.

As for online casino gambling and sports betting, committee vice chairman Boonlue Prasertsopar told the Thai Enquirer, “Other countries like the United Kingdom, Singapore, Vietnam and some states in the United States already have these entertainment complexes which eventually led to the legalization of online gambling in their countries.

“There is no denying that online gambling exists in Thailand, but we are still unable to tax them in order to make extra income for the country.”

Anticipating some pushback, Boonlue added, “We need an entertainment complex that is acceptable by the people first before we can speak in more detail about the online aspect.” If approved, online gambling may include esports betting and lotteries.

The committee has recommended that gaming revenue be taxed at 30 percent.

The proposal will go to the central government for review. A former House member told the Bangkok Post the matter is unlikely to be settled before the representatives’ term ends on February 28.

And a summer 2022 report in the Royal Coast Review predicted that a decision is unlikely until after the country’s 2023 general election in May.

“There is a lot to sort out politically in the country before the focus returns to the legalization of casinos,” said Paul Bromberg, CEO of Spectrum Asia and a resident of Thailand, in comments to publication last year. “I think now there is true bipartisan support for casino legalization. There have been polls showing that the vast majority of the Thai population would not object to having casinos, although when you get down to a more micro level, local communities might object.

“So the atmosphere right now is more beneficial than it has ever been in the past 50 years.”