The bitter controversy over legalizing casinos in the kingdom could be closer to resolution than many people think with the release of a report citing overwhelming public support for the idea.
The essential legal foundations for casinos could be laid before Parliament ends its mandate early next year.
The report, prepared by a committee formed by order of the House of Representatives, could spur legislation needed to make “entertainment complexes” a reality, a euphemism for casinos. The House committee has been hard at work for months amid a debate over what legal recognition of the game might mean for society.
Wisarn: Resident Support Project
Time for a decision
The panel has finalized its report which will be forwarded to parliament for recognition and to the government for a decision on whether the resorts deserve serious attention.
The panel members are confident that the government will implement it as soon as possible.
The study covers four areas: laws governing revenue and tax collection; preventing and mitigating the impacts that the complexes will have on residents; the forms of investment in the complexes; and analysis of related gambling activities.
The study brings together opinion polls, literature reviews and academic research both inside and outside the country.
In terms of revenue and tax collection, the law allows for the legalization of casinos although they must be owned and operated by the state, unless the state grants a concession to private companies to operate them.
However, the report points to a vagueness in the legal definition of “gambling” and “entertainment complexes”.
The Excise Department is able to demand excise tax from casinos if and when they are legalized and go into business.
Under the Excise Tax Act, subordinate legislation such as a Royal Decree or Ministerial Regulation may be enacted which authorizes “gambling services” and sets the rates of excise tax for them. .
Money won in casinos is considered taxable income and must be reported as income tax to the Department of Revenue.
The report also discusses how to mitigate the impacts of “entertainment complexes” on various fronts.
Politically, a high-level regulatory committee will be set up to oversee the resorts, headed by the prime minister.
As for finance, part of the revenue generated by casinos and related businesses should be spent on public welfare and benefits, he says.
Regarding societal factors, the government should educate people about complexes to build trust around the issue.
Taxes from the operation of the casino should be partially diverted to promote the development of education, sports, social protection and improve assistance for people with disabilities. Taxes must also be paid for damage caused to the environment by their construction or operation.
According to the report, suitable areas for building the resorts are the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) as well as locations within 100 km of Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi or U-Tapao airport encompassing 17 provinces; 22 major tourist provinces including those located within a radius of 100 km from international airports; and 22 provinces with permanent passes.
As for investments, the report claims that the resorts will help drive the post-Covid economic recovery. They should be self-contained and comprehensive, modeled on Singapore’s resort-style entertainment complexes, but larger.
The project is expected to be a joint state-private investment with the resorts located in specially administered areas, he said.
The House committee also studied related gaming businesses, namely: online casino games, day trading, online sports betting, betting exchanges, online bingo, online lottery, game skill sites and practice sites.
The report says offline gambling should be strictly confined to resort grounds, while access to online gambling should be kept away from the country’s inhabitants.
Forums were held to gauge people’s views on such projects in the border provinces of Tak, Chiang Rai and Sa Kaeo.
Reactions were mixed, with opponents expressing concerns about social decline while supporters pointed to the likelihood of resorts giving a boost to the local economy.
Residents have further insisted that if the complexes go ahead, they must be under strict control.
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A public opinion survey conducted by Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University found that 80% of respondents nationwide supported the complexes despite fearing what they could lead to, such as increased crime, debt personal issues, domination of resorts by foreign nationals and domestic issues. A total of 3,296 people responded.
The House committee suggested amending the laws to smooth the way for the complexes and prepare the ground for investment.
At the same time, state agencies should quickly launch a pre-feasibility study and analyze the project.
The Ministry of Finance and the Playing Card Factory should seek ways to produce game accessories.
In addition, the Home Office and the Government Lotteries Office should increase their powers to cover online betting.
The tourism sector may need to broaden its marketing to include such resorts.
Wisarn Techatheerawat, a Pheu Thai party lawmaker for Chiang Rai who also advises the House committee, said many residents of Tak, Chiang Rai and Sa Kaeo who attended the meetings supported the project.
They are no strangers to casinos across the border.
Residents learned to protect their families from gambling addiction, he said.
The committee told them the resorts would be linked to tourism, meetings and conventions, which are investment-intensive businesses that could transform local economies, Wisarn told the Bangkok Post.
“Essentially, we want to take what has worked for a long time underground in the gray zone and bring it above ground.
“Instead of being collected [underground] by scrupulous officials, the money will be injected into the system legally,” the MP said.
Mr. Wisarn added that investors from China, the Middle East, the United States and Europe have shown interest in the resorts.
He said the persistent misconception that casinos and entertainment resorts are one and the same needs to be debunked.
Academics and experts agreed with the committee that a casino will be one of many functional components of the larger complex.
The report provided by the committee touched on all the crucial details of the complexes.
For example, customers must be at least 20 years old and no government official can enter the premises.
Business people accessing the complex must produce proof of their financial situation or credit.
Also, remedial measures will be offered to families whose members are victims of compulsive gambling.
“If the government stays in power until early next year, the bill might have a chance to enter parliament and clear legislative hurdles,” he said.
The MP said the complex project would not involve excessive legal amendments or the drafting of new laws.
The committee estimated that the revenue from the resorts would be in the hundreds of billions of baht per year.
These include entrance fees and concessions given to investors to run the complexes.
The scattering of the resorts in Phuket, Phangnga, Pattaya, Bangkok or in the provinces close to the airports would encourage tourists to visit the destinations.
Resorts in border provinces would also help boost cross-border trade, although investors would need favorable laws and regulations.
Mr. Wisarn admitted that it might not be practical for the government to invest 100% in the project.
However, he could grant a concession and issue an operating license. In this respect, a viable option could be to create a joint venture between the State and private companies.
The MP said he believed the project could be on Parliament’s agenda by the end of next month.
Otherwise, he would enter parliament in November, which marks the start of the last regular session of the House’s term, which ends in March next year.
“Ultimately it’s the government that decides,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pada Worakanont, the committee’s spokeswoman, said the complexes would help distribute revenue to the provinces.