Strong public reaction in Thailand to casino proposal

Strong public reaction in Thailand to casino proposal
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

The controversial proposal of allowing legal casinos to operate has received a mixed public reaction, with supporters of the idea highlighting the huge revenue they would generate and critics denouncing them as immoral and the begetters of social and crime-related issues.

Police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung, who strongly supports the idea, yesterday came up with ideas on how to manage the revenue, including tax revenue, which would flow from casinos.

He also floated ideas on how to initially operate casinos so that restrictions were enforced efficiently.

Critics of the proposal have accused Somyot of raising the subject in an attempt to distract the public over the delay in stripping fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of his police rank.

National Reform Council members have differing opinions on the casino issue. A 12-strong group of members calling themselves "patriots" are pushing for casinos to be legalised because of the resulting financial windfall.

However, NRC member Sira Jenjaka lambasted Somyot for proposing something that would lead to social problems, including families breaking up, while serving as the police chief.

He vowed to hold a parallel press conference in response to Somyot's plan to hold a press conference on the matter one month before his retirement at the end of September, and vowed to oppose the idea as best he could.

Sira said he was a former gambler and had lost his family and a lot of money gambling. "So I don't want my fellow countrymen to get addicted to gambling," he added.

Former Democrat Party MP Watchara Phetthong said the patriots led by former Pheu Thai MP Anan Watcharothai should rebrand themselves the "Casino-loving Group".

He also labelled the NRC and the junta-affiliated National Council for Peace and Order as conspirators in the push for legalised casinos, as Somyot was a senior member of both groups.

Watchara branded Somyot's staunch support of the proposal as an attempt to divert public attention away from the failure to strip Thaksin of his police rank. National Legislative Assembly member Wallop Tangkhananurak, a vocal child rights advocate, echoed his remarks.

Wallop called on Somyot to launch a crackdown on gambling dens, which he said had resulted in a huge amount of illegal payments going to police, before making any move on the casino issue.

He said people aged under 20 regularly entered night entertainment venues in Thailand while Malaysians were restricted from entering casinos in their country.

"There has always been a problem over the lax enforcement of laws [by police]. I want to know whether the three issues I raised can be prevented from happening or recurring," he said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has distanced himself from the issue, but said Somyot's ideas should be listened to and the proposal would be submitted for the government's consideration through appropriate channels after the matter was fully debated publicly.

"Whatever ideas you have about the casino issue, propose them and discuss them. Isn't Thailand a democratic country?" he said

"Discuss the issue and finalise it. It's not like one listens to only what he wants to hear, or speaks on only topics he is interested in. I am not that kind of person, I listen to everyone."

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