BANGKOK - Thailand's national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung has backed a controversial proposal to permit legal casinos, saying he would open a website to canvass public opinions on the issue.
"I am ready to declare myself as the first national police chief to push for (legal) casinos," he said on Wednesday, adding that he would organise a press conference to clarify his position on the issue.
"I am not afraid of being slammed by groups of people and members of society, as I adhere to reality and well realise the Thai people's gambling habit. Illegal and underground gambling activities flourish with (or without) casinos," he added.
Under a proposal unveiled earlier this week by some members of the National Reform Council (NRC), possible sites for casinos include Phuket, Ubon Ratchathani and Koh Larn, which is situated off Pattaya in Chon Buri.
A group of NRC members who raised the issue said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and NRC president Thienchay Kiranandana were not openly opposed to the idea.
They quoted General Prayut as saying that "the government has no stance on the issue and the public could voice their views on it", and Mr Thienchay as saying that "the legalisation of gambling is not on the NRC's current agenda".
Associate Professor Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, an academic who has studied the legalisation of gambling, said casinos could generate up to 400 billion baht (S$16 billion) in the first year.
Citing the case of Singapore, he said its annual visitor numbers had increased since the casinos were opened, rising to 15 million last year from 9.7 million in 2009. He noted that hotel reservations had risen by 24 per cent and the room occupancy rate by 10 per cent, while 30,000 jobs had been created in and around the casino sector.
Furthermore, Prof Sungsidh, who serves as dean of the College of Social Innovation at Rangsit University, argued that legal casinos in Thailand would surely outperform those in Singapore, given the greater number of tourist attractions in the kingdom, and the abundance and variety of food and other natural resources.
Meanwhile, The Moral Centre, a public body, expressed concern over the issue, saying lax enforcement of restrictions against unregistered gamblers would worsen social and crime-related problems.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK