Several members of the National Reform Council (NRC) have proposed that casinos be legalised in a bid to increase state revenues. They argue that the huge amount of money Thai gamblers currently stake in foreign casinos could be kept in the country.
However, the proposal was shelved after NRC chairman Thienchay Kiranandana said the council had no time to consider it in the two months left to complete its work.
Thienchay also dismissed reports that the proposal was an NRC resolution, saying the council had not been asked to consider the idea and it merely reflected the personal opinion of some members.
Advocacy for legalising casinos in Thailand has been around for ages. Among its latest champions is NRC member Boonlert Kachayudhadej, who said the move would mean Thai gamblers could indulge their habit within the country, thereby boosting the national coffers via taxes on casinos.
Fellow member Anan Vatcharotai said the number of large casinos in neighbouring countries was set to rise from 22 to at least 30 in the next three to four years. He estimated that about 80 per cent of gamblers in casinos just across the border were Thais. "Legalising casinos would help prevent a lot of money from draining out of the country," said Anan.
While the proposal undoubtedly has merit, the pros and cons of legalising casinos in Thailand must be carefully weighed up
before we make a decision either way.
Thailand's neighbours - Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore - all have casinos, and they attract a lot of Thai gamblers.
And, despite the ban on casinos in Thailand, it's no secret that many are operating here under the noses of law enforcers, who tolerate their presence in return for regular bribes. Legalising casinos would certainly result in lost income for both the illicit dens and corrupt law enforcers all over the country. As such, there is resistance to the move.
For policy-makers, it is certainly a difficult decision, which is why previous administrations have always shelved proposals for legalising casinos.
While many citizens support the idea, others point to the possible negative impact on younger people and other vulnerable groups in society. The opponents point out that legalising casinos risks encouraging addiction to gambling among youngsters and those on low incomes.
If the policy-makers do opt for legalisation, they should ensure that stringent measures are in place to prevent potential victims from having easy access to casinos. Rules on the minimum age of people allowed to enter casinos must be enforced properly. And adults who wish to gamble must produce written proof that they have the financial means to do so.
The government must be decisive on this issue in deciding which option is best for the nation as a whole.