BANGKOK – Legalised casinos may be Thailand’s best bet of gaining some control over its multi-billion-dollar underground gambling industry.
From the Prime Minister down to the national police chief, official backing has been pouring in since the proposal was revived recently.
The rationale is simple.
Thais spend an estimated 400 billion baht (S$16.6 billion) in illegal gambling dens within the country and in overseas casinos annually.
The government could use the revenue from taxing just a small percentage of this amount to close the country’s growing budget deficit.
Another benefit would be reduced levels of corruption.
Licensed casinos would no longer have to bribe the police in exchange for protection.
Yet it was not so long ago that few politicians here could or would have openly endorsed the idea.
This is because gambling, with the exception of a state-run lottery, is ‘officially illegal’ despite their being hundreds of underground gambling dens in the country.
And like most contradictions in this society, there is no logical explanation.
Officials have cited a respect for Buddhism and concerns about gambling addiction as reasons for banning casinos in Thailand.
But many people …