In the aftermath of illegal gambling dens being at the forefront of recent COVID-19 outbreaks, consideration is being considered to reviewing and perhaps legalising gambling.
Much of Thailand’s recent coronavirus outbreak has been linked to illegal gambling dens, prompting suggestions that legalisation of gambling would be a more practical approach to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has approved a 10-member committee to inspect state officials’ law enforcement in cases of illegal gambling. General Prayut, in his capacity as chairman of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), also said it was time to begin discussing the possibility of legalising gambling in Thailand, according to CCSA spokesman Taweesilp
Gen Prayut recently admitted it was hard to curb gambling and is now said to be open to holding public discussions about the pros and cons of legalised gambling, even though he opposes it personally.
Pol Gen Winai Thongsong, a former deputy national police chief, said it is undeniable that police are aware of gambling dens operating under their watch. “Police know where gambling dens are. Such large dens can never escape their eyes. But they do not make any arrests because there are vested interests involved.”
However he has thrown his support behind the legalisation of casinos, saying casinos in neighbouring countries have drawn many Thai gamblers. It will be better if legal casinos are set up in this country so the casino industry can contribute tax revenue to the country, he said.
Nualnoi Treerat, an academic on public economics and quantitative economics at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Asian Studies, has said that law enforcement agencies, particularly the Royal Thai Police, are in need of reform if the crackdown on illegal gambling is to achieve success.
“Without reform, the formation of the committee will yield no results. Don’t forget that over the past five to six years, the government has been thinking of reforming law enforcement agencies, but it appears to be getting nowhere,” she said.
On the proposal to legalise gambling, she said such a move would not put an end to illegal gambling dens. Ms Nualnoi said her survey found that gambling is prevalent in all provinces and it is not easy to legalise gambling. In doing so, one must take into account types of gambling and what purpose to be achieved.
“For example, if legalised gambling takes the form of a large entertainment complex as in Las Vegas or Macau, the question is who will benefit from it? Is it for the sake of the majority of people?” she said.
She stressed the need to ensure strict law enforcement before any move to legalise gambling to minimise its social impacts. “Don’t forget social costs that will follow. People addicted to gambling often end up deep in debt and tend to commit crime. I am not opposed to legalised gambling, but law enforcement agencies must undergo a major overhaul at the same time.”
Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, a scholar well-versed on the subject of the economics of gambling at Rangsit University, echoed the view that even if casinos are legalised, problems will remain unsolved. The police force must be transparent and subject to scrutiny.
“Without police reform, legalisation of gambling dens will not help anyway. Illegal gambling dens will not disappear because they are sources of income [for some police],” he said.
“If the PM has no courage to make serious effort to reform the police force, the problems will remain unsolved,” he said.