In the last week, Mr Chutchawan Kong-u-dom has highlighted the economic imperative of liberalising Thailand’s gambling laws dominated by the 1935 Gambling Act to allow for casinos in selected tourist hubs. He is also calling for an opening up to online gambling saying the kingdom cannot afford to lose financial capital that is flowing out of the country which could amount to trillions of baht. On Thursday, the Royal Thai Police in a raid in central Bangkok’s Sukhumvit area, on two apartments, arrested 10 Chinese nationals operating 6 gambling sites with a turnover of ฿100 million a month although police suggested that these were aimed primarily at the Chinese market.
The leader of the small Thai Local Party has emerged as one of the most fervent advocates of a movement to shake up the country’s legal provisions on gambling. A high powered committee of the House of Representatives is due to report by the end of March on proposals to legalise the development of high-end casinos in tourist hotspots in a move designed to boost the economy and support foreign tourism. However, Mr Chutchawan Kong-u-dom, a member of the House of Representatives, is also calling for broader legislation on gambling which would allow for the legalisation and regulation of online gambling which he claims could be costing the kingdom trillions of baht per annum in lost revenue.
A Thai MP and party leader who is supportive of the current coalition government, is urging that the kingdom moves forward with a proposal being studied by an extraordinary parliamentary committee to legalise and regulate the operation of casinos in the country.
Chutchawan Kong-u-dom is the leader of the Thai Local Power Party which secured 3 seats in the 2019 General Election.
Change needed as smartphones have revolutionised society with money now flowing out of the kingdom
He is also calling for a review of the wider law as it relates to online gambling, pointing to huge amounts of capital flowing out of the country, on a daily basis, that could be used to support the economy.
‘Mobile phones give punters easy access to betting websites and the upshot is that money is flowing out,’ he said this week as he explained his enthusiasm for reform of the 1935 law which imposes a blanket ban on gambling in Thailand except for select exceptions such as the state-sponsored national lottery and controlled horse racing, a sport that briefly became very popular in Thailand in the middle half of the 20th century but swiftly declined since then.
Select casinos could generate ฿75 to ฿80 billion a year, a liberal gambling law could generate trillions
While some experts are suggesting that, legalised casinos in Thailand, licenced at strategic points particularly in foreign tourism hubs, could generate between ฿75 billion and ฿80 billion for the current cash-starved economy due to the COVID-19 virus crisis, Mr Chutchawan believes the loss to the country when online gambling is taken into account could be measured not just in billions but in trillions of baht or a significant proportion of the country’s GDP.
‘The principle is to stop such hefty sums leaving our domestic market, an amount that could be in the billions, or even trillions, of baht,’ the MP declares. ‘Soccer betting is huge, and that revenue could be spent on education or assisting struggling farmers.’
60 man parliamentary committee already at work
The House of Representatives has recently voted to establish a 60 man committee to examine the proposal.
The extraordinary committee is headed up by the Deputy Minister of Transport Atirat Ratanaset who is working closely with 16 other MPs acting in the role of deputy chairman.
The panel was established by a House of Representatives vote on the 9th December last by 310 to 9.
The committee is scheduled to report within 90 days on its findings and recommendations on the issue.
Former ruling party boss Thamanat Prompow is a key adviser to the committee looking at legal casinos
Key advisers to the committee include Thamanat Prompow, the former Secretary-general of the Palang Pracharat Party who is currently in the process of looking for a new party along with up to 20 other renegade MPs from Palang Pracharat.
The Pheu Thai Party’s Wan Ubumrung is also a key adviser.
15 members of the committee were appointed as representatives of the cabinet while 45 are associated with the various political parties.
The committee has already formed a series of sub-committees or panels to look into individual areas linked with the proposal or key aspects.
Casino buildings, investment structures and a range of legal issues to be considered by key sub-panels
These include the sort of building complexes in which the new legal casinos will be housed, legal issues and changes that will be required as well as how investment in and ownership of such casinos should be regulated.
‘The matter must be studied in all aspects, including the pros and cons, impacts from abroad, and impacts from neighbouring countries,’ explained Mr Atirat in December when the process got underway. ‘And the aim is for the study to be done within 90 days as assigned.’
Every precaution should be looked at but a new law is likely to emerge at least on casinos says MP
Mr Chutchawan Kong-u-dom, this week, emphasised that every precaution must be taken to make sure the new initiative does not cause harm but still advocated wider legalisation of gambling in Thailand.
‘I believe it will be accepted because we will have regulations in place to keep young people away. I want it to take shape in two years with construction work completed. If not, we should at least enact a law to legalise casino gambling,’ he said.
‘I think the House committee is trying its best to collect input. Eventually, a new law will have to be enacted to regulate casino operations and make it right.’
Proposal faces opposition. Gambling was legal in Thailand for 5 years until 1935 before being outlawed
While aware of the fact that the proposal faces some opposition, Mr Chutchawan, this week, insisted that while he welcomes the determination of lawmakers to look at every possible aspect of the plan to make such activities safe, the fact remains that the country has lost huge amounts of revenue and employment opportunities over the past decades.
He said the economic imperative for this proposal trumps any other consideration.
Gambling was legalised in Thailand from 1930 to 1935 seemingly with disastrous results leading to the introduction of the strict 1935 Gambling Act which, while it is rigorously enforced today by the Royal Thai Police, has also become an activity linked with corruption.
A majority of Thais secretly gamble already
A study, some years ago, in Thailand conducted by Chulalongkorn University, found that 60% of Thai people aged over 15 regularly gambled even though the activity is illegal.
In the Kingdom, approximately 20 million Thais play the illegal Thai lottery while 19 million pay the government-operated lottery which generate up to ฿200 billion a year in income between both operations.
Consistent warnings from the Royal Thai Police about the dangers of gambling and its relationship with serious crime including robbery and even murder
Despite the enthusiasm for the initiative in parliament and across the political spectrum, the Royal Thai Police has long warned of the dangers of gambling and its links to crime in the kingdom with regular reports of violence, bank robberies and even murder resulting from an urgent need to pay off gambling debts often owed to the criminal underworld which operates extensively.
Disabled Thai woman killed by a young gambler for her gold necklace in a chilling crime that shocked locals
In September 2018, in Chumphon province, Ranakorn Suphamongkhonlert surrendered to police after murdering a wealthy disabled woman at a special toilet facility located within a local Tesco Lotus retail centre, to steal her gold neck chain valued at ฿40,000.
The 25-year-old stabbed the woman with a knife when she resisted and snatched the gold piece from her neck.
He later told horrified police that he needed to obtain cash to pay a gambling debt.
An increasing number of Thais, especially women, are flocking to work in casinos and gambling centres of all types across the kingdom’s borders
In support of the initiative, there have been increasing reports of Thai nationals being lured to Cambodia and Myanmar to work in the expanding casino and online gambling trade in the kingdom’s eastern and western neighbours which are dominated by Chinese nationals.
In November last year, three Thai women were released after being held as ‘slaves’ in the gambling city of Poipet in Cambodia, near the Thai border.
A further 60 were also later freed in follow up police operations.
The women were released after police officers in Klong Luek, on Thailand’s border with Cambodia, sent word to their counterparts in Poipet.
Chinese boss threatened to sell Thai women to the Chinese mafia as slave workers for online call centres
The women’s Chinese employer turned kidnapper had demanded a ransom for them threatening to sell them on as slave labour to Chinese operated call centres run by mafia organisations.
These are often affiliated with online gambling and money lending operating in China and other areas outside national state jurisdictions.
On Thursday, the Royal Thai Police, in a joint operation between the Immigration Bureau, Cyber Task Force and the Tourism Police took 10 Chinese nationals into custody in a dawn raid.
The 10 were operating an illegal call centre running scams as well as 6 online gambling websites which police revealed were generating over ฿100 million a month.
The raid was driven by intelligence and arrest warrants supplied by Chinese law enforcement.