Is legalised betting worth the gamble?

Tourism has been one of the strongest sectors of the Thai economy in recent years. Its annual revenues of up to around 300 billion baht have been a major buffer for the economy given the recent declines in exports. The government has rightly looked to strengthen the attractions for tourists through a variety of promotions and development campaigns.


Now Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, former prime minister and defence minister, believes that legalising gambling and opening casinos will help to further strengthen the country’s appeal to tourists. Not necessarily foreign tourists, but Thais who now travel abroad to satiate their need to place a bet. Gen Chavalit argues that up to 300 billion baht is lost each year from Thais travelling to casinos. No less than 40 casinos are known to be operating along our borders, catering largely to Thai punters. Gen Chavalit said the military considered these casinos a direct threat to the country’s security, and thought legalisation would help the economy by keeping proceeds within our borders. Allowing a casino to open in Pattaya, for instance, would not only reduce incentives for Thais to travel abroad, it would further the tourism industry by attracting foreign gamblers to the country.


Under the 1935 Gambling Act, all gambling activities, save horse racing, are prohibited. While temporary licences can be issued by the police, this is not done in practice. For the most part, the government lottery represents the sole legal gambling option for most people.


There is little question that illegal gambling, ranging from underground lotteries to football pools to card games, is huge business. A study in the mid-1990s by Chulalongkorn University estimated that illegal gambling generated value-added of up to 277 billion baht for the economy each year. Punters cross a broad swath of society _ rich …