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Finance minister conditionally joins chorus of casino backers

Jun 22. 2015
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By The Nation

FINANCE MINISTER Sommai Phasee yesterday floated the idea of setting up a casino that would be part of an "entertainment complex" in which other services including shopping malls and conference facilities would also be available.

He said casinos in Thailand would be better operated through the “meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions” format where visitors and families could use the various services, including casinos, to “relax themselves”.

He said there could be ways to prevent “poor people” from entering the casinos.

Sommai said the high cover charge, at S$200 (Bt5044) in the case of Singapore, could simply prevent people with limited income from gambling in the casinos.

“But I disagree with the idea of permitting casinos and gambling dens [everywhere],” he said, adding: “It’s better not to let our people punt and spend elsewhere [outside Thailand].” He said he did not agree with permits for casinos being made available for the general public.

Speaking earlier in a radio interview, Sommai dismissed as untrue reports that he was arranging for executives of the US-based Las Vegas Sands Corp to meet with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Asked about reports on Sands attempting to build and operate a casino at Makkasan rail maintenance depot off Asoke Road in Bangkok he said: “It’s good … as the Finance Ministry is planning to negotiate an exchange of an area in the depot, [which is owned by the debt-ridden State Railway of Thailand].”

Sommai said he went to Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore twice and spent S$200 in casino entry fees.

A group of National Reform Council members, who proposed the casino operation, said yesterday that opinion surveys had shown opposition to the idea but they were conducted among a small number of respondents. Anan Watcharothai, a group leader, said he would meet with child rights activist Wallop Tangkananurak and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who are opposed to a casino licence, to listen to their differing opinions.

Royal Thai Police chief General Somyot Poompanmoung said he did not care about poll results that reflected opposition from the public to the casino. The number of respondents was too small and results of surveys from across the country should reflect a true opinion of the public, he added.

He said resistance, after he opened a website to probe public opinion, would likely come from a group of owners of more than 30 gambling dens that operated in neighbouring countries. Somyot said he would soon provide a map showing the dens around Thailand to the media.

Responding to news reports about Thong Lor police on Sunday raiding a luxury condominium and arresting 26 high-profile Thai and foreign gamblers, Somyot said he could not confirm whether police had benefited from this operation but vowed to penalise them if they were found involved.

The Political Development Council yesterday issued a statement opposing the casino proposal. It cited several reasons against the idea and that Thailand, without casinos, could show off its potential as a tourist destination without using vices as selling points to attract visitors and generate revenue.

Council chairman Theerapat Serirangsan also called on Prayut to suspend Somyot, who is supposed to suppress vice and gambling, but appears to be an ardent supporter of the casino proposal.

“If I were prime minister, I would have dismissed the police chief,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister MR Pridiyathorn Devakula, who oversees the government’s economic affairs, said he preferred to view the casino proposal from the the social aspect, rather than the economic one.

He said rich people could potentially lose in gambling, especially to the den operators. “No gambling operators are poor or run their business in the red.”

“Talking about gambling-generated revenue, the money going into the government’s coffers would come from people who lost in gambling, which cost them their jobs and hurt their families. Is it worth it to earn the country some extra revenue by making people poorer and indebted?” he asked.


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