Pattaya business leaders are divided over whether opening legal casinos would mitigate Thailand’s illegal gambling problem.
Sen. Wanchai Sornsiri, a longtime anti-graft campaigner and advocate for legalized gambling, resurrected his 2017 proposal to open a casino or two in Pattaya or Huay Yai as a regulated alternative to underground gambling dens that sparked a massive coronavirus outbreak in Rayong last month.
His argument – similar to one repeatedly floated to legalize prostitution – would be that, if made legal, casinos could be regulated, taxed and subjected to health and safety standards.
Proposals to open a casino in Pattaya have surfaced several times in the past 20 years but have gone nowhere in the face of religious and law-enforcement opposition.
Pattaya City Councilman Sinchai Wattanasartsathorn, the former head of the Pattaya Business & Tourism Association, said he doesn’t see legal casinos working in Thailand with its system of patronage and corruption unable to allow “gray area” businesses to operate transparently “in the light.”
He pointed to the failed, ten-year struggle to move the underground lottery online. If the government can’t stage a simple internet lottery, what chance is there it can successfully regulate a full-blow casino, he asked.
Sinchai also doubted that a legalized casino would have much impact on small-time gamblers who would still bet illegally.
If a casino were opened, he added, it should not be in Pattaya but a region where the casino’s wealth could benefit poor people.
Current PBTA President Ekasit Ngampichet disagreed, saying a casino would be a boon for Pattaya tourism, pointing to Macao, Malaysia and Singapore.
Acknowledging there would be some downsides to legal gambling, Ekasit said Thailand was nearly to the level where it could competently police and regulate a casino.
He admitted corruption was a nationwide problem, but believes the economic and employment benefits of a casino would outweigh crime and other negative factors.