Thailand is moving closer to legalising casino gambling, with international and regional operators seeing the country as a lucrative landscape. A knowledgeable source claims that full legalisation will come within three years.
Legal Casinos Coming to Thailand within Three Years?
James Kaplan, CEO of Destination Capital, said in a statement: "Thailand will do 'it', but the question is what the 'it' will look like". He went on to highlight that the country not only has the potential to become a regional powerhouse for gaming but also one of the biggest centres in the world.
Spectrum Gaming Group's Managing Director, Frederic Gushin, wrote how Thailand is in perfect position to replicate the success of the Philippines with a superior status as a business hub and tourist destination.
“Thailand has a once in a generation opportunity to become one of the most successful gaming jurisdictions in the world.
“Thailand’s status as a regional business hub and global tourist destination plus domestic appetite for gaming suggest Thai gaming could blossom into the Philippines on steroids."
Though on the surface, Thailand appears to have a smooth path towards making these changes, there is still substantial resistance in Thai society as a whole. Buddhist clergy and conservative politicians at least, with underground casinos possibly holding considerable sway in the background.
International Operators Keen to Invest
The opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper and with all of the advantages mentioned above, it is no surprise that many international operators of note have expressed interest in building resorts.
Currently, no locations are certain but Bangkok, the seaside resort of Pattaya, and paradise island Phuket are the three most obvious candidates. “Special Zones” are being talked about that would potentially include exemption from Thai ownership requirements, allowing powerhouse names from the likes of Las Vegas and Macau to step in unhindered.
Thailand's robust tourism industry provides a compelling case for integrated resorts. With over 39.8 million visitors in 2019, including a significant number from China, there is a growing need to enhance the tourism offering and stimulate further economic growth.
The late Sheldon Adelson already had one eye on Thailand as early as 2005. The Las Vegas Sands Corp founder had plans drawn up for integrated resorts which he presented to government officials in 2010 amidst chatter that legalisation could be coming sooner rather than later.
Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Robert Goldstein, said in January 2023:
“We’re certainly looking hard at Thailand and we’d love to have a presence in the future.”
Galaxy Entertainment Group executive vice-president Buddy Lam said the firm was fully focussed on its Macau business but was open to the idea of Thailand if an opportunity presented itself.
“Galaxy Entertainment Group remains focused on our development in Macau. At the same time, we will look at overseas opportunities on a case by case basis. We believe Thailand will draw a lot of attention if it decides to open for IR development.”
A Big Economic Win
James Kaplan pointed out that economic factors are now the primary driving force in this decision-making process, in his statement.
Public debt is rising beyond 58% of GDP while Thai nationals and tourists are travelling to border casinos which pay no taxes to the Thai government.
“The key difference is we live in different times. Public debt is now 58% of GDP. Government needs to raise revenue to pay this down.
“Thailand has casinos at all its borders and the government can capture this money leakage and tax it by having legalised and regulated casinos in Thailand.”
There are still many challenges and uncertainty surrounding the legalisation of casinos in Thailand. Nothing can be certain in one of the most fluid of political landscapes.
But the attractive economical benefits are for all to see; it now depends on whether Thai society can handle such a turnaround when currently all gambling is banned.