A small group of National Reform Council members has called for casinos to be legalised in Thailand, citing the presence of booming casinos over the border in neighbouring countries. They said Pattaya was the logical location for one.
Major Arnun Watcharothai and Kriangkrai Phumlaochaeng said yesterday that the casino-revival plan was backed by a dozen NRC members, including themselves.
They pointed to the benefits the country would reap - additional spending and tax revenue from foreign visitors and high-rollers who currently have to head to neighbouring countries to gamble.
Past governments, including the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, had floated the prospect of granting concessions to investors to develop such entertainment and gaming complexes in Thailand, but the proposal ran into strong domestic opposition.
Calling themselves a group of "NRC members who love Thailand", they said a formal proposal would be submitted soon to the government.
Arnun said the group was aware of the previous unsuccessful attempts to seek government permits for such complexes but believed that there would be significant economic spin-offs from this new proposal because Bangkok, for example, is a major tourist destination with millions of foreign visitors per year. The entertainment and casino facilities could be used as new attractions to boost tourism revenue.
There are now 22 casino facilities in neighbouring countries, with plans to open more in the next three or four years, he said, adding that the border areas in countries such as Cambodia would become a new gambling magnet similar to Las Vegas in the US.
Arnun said 80 per cent of punters in these places were Thais, so legalising casinos in Thailand would plug the leakage of foreign exchange from the country.
At this stage, Pattaya in Chon Buri province is among the suitable places for the government to consider for hosting casino operations.
Critics often argue that Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, so the government should not legalise gambling, which is a sin, but some neighbouring countries, including those whose citizens are mainly Muslim, legally allow the operation of entertainment and casino complexes.
These clubs would create more jobs for Thais and generate additional receipts for the government, which should execute the policy professionally, Arnun said.
The NRC will propose the casino-revival plan to the government if the majority of council members vote for it. However, the final decision rests with the Cabinet and the military's ruling National Council for Peace and Order, he said.
Kriangkrai said many Thais liked to wager and they went overseas to try their luck.
Granting permits for setting up entertainment and casino complexes is not a bad idea.
It makes sense to turn the so-called "sin tax" into useful funds for the good of society, such as help for the poor and national development, he said.
The government should target foreign tourists to use these facilities. Locals would be required to present their financial statements before they were allowed to enter the premises.
The government should set up a committee to evaluate the pros and cons of this proposal, he said.