Former massage parlor tycoon Chuwit Kamolvisit speaks out in favor of legalizing gambling. Apichart Jinakul
Former politician and massage parlor mogul Chuwit Kamolvisit has backed a move to legalize casinos, saying it would be a huge source of revenue for the government and attract foreign visitors.
Known as a political maverick and media firebrand, Mr Chuwit said people should accept the truth that vices, including gambling, are enjoyed by many Thais.
”We should stop pretending [that vices do not exist]. Police should also stop raiding gambling dens. Shady activities are a way for some authorities to secure ill-gotten gains and they should now be legalized,” he said.
He also said that several illegal gambling dens operate under the noses of the police and with their knowledge.
”Without the green light from the police, these illegal hideouts cannot operate. Therefore, legalized gambling should curb dens,” he said.
In the past, some illegal gambling dens offered money to certain state officials in exchange for their support. These officials then used the money to buy their positions, Chuwit said.
“Now is the time to legalize them,” Mr. Chuwit said, further describing a casino as “just a minor defect, not a serious one.”
By law, illegal gambling is considered a misdemeanor and is not punishable by a fine or a suspended prison sentence, Chuwit said.
”Gambling is one of the vices of society. No society can escape it. But we try to pretend they don’t exist. Some claim that prostitution does not exist, but the massage parlors are there in the heart of the capital.
”Some refuse to accept the existence of illegal gambling dens. Several dens raided by the police are luxurious establishments, air-conditioned, controlled by software systems. Also, gambling is now online,” Chuwit said.
Legal casinos increase state revenue
Mr Chuwit said the government needed money to fund its relief programs to mitigate the economic impacts of Covid-19 as well as high fuel prices and the rising cost of living.
Under the current circumstances, state coffers have been depleted as tax collection has failed to meet targets, Chuwit said.
“Therefore, the government should think about legalizing casinos. A House committee has been set up to study the feasibility of building a casino as part of an entertainment complex,” Chuwit said.
”In fact, several neighboring countries have already opened such resorts. They made big investments. They have ways to generate income, with membership systems. Thailand may be slow, but they haven’t missed an opportunity yet.
“Thailand is still in a better position because the country is so geared towards tourism and the service industry that we can get started right away,” Chuwit said.
He said the country should develop a strategy to diversify its tourism products to provide visitors with a wider and more varied tourism experience.
“Tourists won’t come here just to see canals or temples,” he said.
“Some may avoid mentioning Patpong or those vices. Some say the country is a Buddhist society and that goes against Buddhism. But these vices are still there.
“If you accept it and legalize them, build legal entertainment complexes with casinos and hotels, they will attract many tourists,” Chuwit said.
”Thailand has everything to offer. There is only one hurdle left to overcome: accepting the truth about these minor vices. I think the casino industry can make a substantial contribution to the country’s economy.”
However, Mr Chuwit said legalized gambling would not bankrupt illegal gambling.
“This was also the case for the underground lottery. It still exists and thrives despite the government lottery. The same goes for the illegal dens,” he said.
”But the government would be able to collect additional taxes and revenue from legal gambling houses and promote tourism. When you enter legal casinos, you won’t have to worry about cheating. No thugs, hooligans or gunmen would be allowed inside,” Chuwit said.
“In legal casinos, customers can be screened. The age limit will be fixed. Guests must show proof of ID cards.
“In illegal dens, people can commit crimes and get away with it. Some may sell and deliver drugs to these premises,” Chuwit said.
On June 29, the House committee discussed ideas for legalizing casinos to earn revenue, collect taxes from resorts, as well as crack down on illegal casinos, slots and gambling on line.
According to the committee, Thailand could host five casinos, one in each of the five regions.
Pichet Chuamuangphan, vice chairman of the House committee, said the feasibility study will take a year and is based on the business models of many countries, including Singapore and Malaysia.
The main purpose of having entertainment resorts in Thailand is to create jobs, attract foreign visitors and bring additional income to the country, he said.
A plan to operate a casino in each of the country’s five regions will be submitted to the government, he said.
Mr Pichet said the government would grant a concession for each facility to a private company to invest in. The government plans to collect 30% taxes from each entertainment complex, he said.
As for the clientele, the committee suggests that clients must be at least 20 years old and in good financial health to gamble. State agents would not be allowed to enter these places unless they hold a valid permit.
Mr Chuwit said police had been trying unsuccessfully to crack down on illegal dens for more than a decade.
”The police raided and made arrests. Soon after, they reopened and the cycle repeats itself. Related laws should be revised to impose heavy fines on operators of illegal dens.
Mr Chuwit said there are four places that have the potential to open casinos – Pattaya, Koh Larn, Bangkok and Phuket – and casino resorts should be all-inclusive, with cocktail lounges, lounges massage and entertainment facilities or even amusement parks.
Workers at legalized casinos will pay taxes and be entitled to social benefits such as Social Security and health checks, he said.
”This is what should be done rather than banning. If we wait too long to start casinos, customers will move to neighboring countries,” Chuwit said.
He also called on the government to allow nightspots to open until the early hours.
”Thailand is promoted as a tourist destination, but it has to close early. For example, nightspots in Phuket should be allowed to open until 5am. Why be shy? Today, Pattaya has the walking street, with crowded bars,” Mr Chuwit said.
Legalized Casino Referendum
But if people are still divided on legalizing casinos, the government should step in and hold a referendum for people to vote on the issue, Chuwit said.
“A referendum should be held because the issue concerns everyone,” Mr Chuwit said, adding that the government should also come up with measures to prevent young children from entering casinos by introducing membership systems.
”Sooner or later, Thailand will inevitably reach the point [where casinos will be legalised],” he said.
He said a casino location should be easily accessible and already a tourist destination. Maybe it’s an island.
”You can regulate vices and keep them in moderation. In reality, Thais are only three steps away from vices,” Mr Chuwit said.