A general said to be behind push for Thai casino

A POWERFUL general has been spearheading the push for opening a casino in Thailand, National Reform Council (NRC) member Sira Jenjaka said yesterday.

He said he had also heard that this general had promised to reward NRC members who rally for the casino with a post at the soon-to-be-established national reform steering council. The general has also allegedly promised pro-casino NRC members up to Bt10 billion to establish a new political party if the casino does indeed materialise.

"Since the NRC members' term will expire in two months, some of them now care just about their own interests. They are obviously ignoring the country's problems by pushing for the casino," he said.

Sira did not identify the general by name.

Major Anan Vajarodaya, NRC member, who supports the casino idea, dismissed as groundless any suggestion that his group was offered rewards to push for the launch of a casino.

"I don't know why someone would raise such an accusation," he said. He also expressed concern that such accusations would make the authorities reluctant to consider the casino proposal.

Anan said he and his group would continue to propose the launch of a casino in Thailand.

"We will present our proposal to the government next month," he said.

Sira attacked not just some of his fellow NRC members but also other supporters of the casino idea, such as well-known monk Phra Payom Kalayano and General Somyot Poompanmoung, the national police chief.

"Gambling is a vice. So instead of giving people access to casinos, why don't we explain to them why gambling is bad?" he asked.

He even suggested that a disciplinary probe be launched against Somyot.

The national police chief, however, remained defiant, saying he was ready to sign a petition proposing legal amendments to pave the way for opening an entertainment complex that includes a casino.

"I am not an economics expert, but I don't want to see Thais flocking overseas to play in casinos," he said.

As for calls for him to be removed from his post as national police chief, Somyot countered by saying he was doing nothing wrong by voicing support for opening a casino.

"All I've done is express my opinion. As a policeman, I will still take action against gambling for as long as it violates Thai law," he said.

Meanwhile, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said a casino would have both pros and cons.

"I can tell you that Thai tourism can blossom even without a casino, as foreigners visit for our arts and culture," she said, adding that she did not think having a casino would significantly boost the number of foreign visitors.

Kobkarn also said that Thailand has been one of the most popular destinations in the world and ranks 10th in terms of visitor numbers.

Surachai Liengboonlertchai, vice president of the National Legislative Assembly, reckoned that the casino issue was a sensitive one.

"Casinos are not acceptable in Thai society, so we have to study all relevant factors before deciding to go ahead with it," he said.

He added that the assembly would hav