By Piyaporn Wongruang
Assistant Professor Rattaphong, who is also associated with Rangsit University’s Social Innovation College, has followed the recent news reports about the new casino and stumbled on the rationale of “globalisation” due to its proximity to a sports hub.
In recent years, he has been studying casinos and their impacts. The business has seen strong growth in the Asia Pacific region. This became possible due to economic growth in some countries, including China, which makes financial flows as well as tourism expansion possible across borders to feed the business.
In his paper “Casinos on the borders, Impacts and Challenges”, published some four years ago but still relevant in the eyes of some police officers, Rattaphong tried to explain this phenomenon.
Because of the rise of a major new emerging economy like China and some others, people seek entertainment that they can afford. This has prompted some countries in the region to come up with several kinds of casinos to serve the demand.
Singapore, for instance, came up with an “integrated resort”, under which casinos are on offer for visitors along with other entertainment activities.
Rattaphong pointed to the growth of the business in the region, which in 2010 was valued at around US$34.2 billion was projected to have grown to more than 49 per cent in 2015.
This is partly because the activity is legal in those countries.
However, in Thailand gambling and casinos are still considered illegal, and this prompts businesses to go underground, or even to the borders.
Rattaphong estimates that at least 10 major casinos have been opened along the borders, especially between Thailand and Cambodia.
The more interesting fact is that these casinos have also embraced betting in modern sports, including major league football from around the world. High technology and the Internet make it possible to gamble online on matches almost everywhere, including at casinos along the borders.
The latest case of the new casino, he said, could exemplify how “globalisation” works here.
“Buri Ram houses several major or world-class sports,” said Rattaphong. “The point is if the games there enter the casino and are opened for gambling, that would reinforce its globalised nature here as the place is perfect for the activity. Our law, however, can hardly keep up with this emerging trend.”
The hard reality is these casinos along the borders are mostly legal in neighbouring countries, and that has led people to believe they are involve in money laundering and other shady businesses.
As they are situated in sensitive border zones, it’s hardly possible for ordinary people to invest in them, other than big investors with political connections. As such, it’s often found that those alleged to be involved in border casinos are politicians who have firm connections with others in neighbouring countries, he said.
Thailand, meanwhile, has relied principally on the 1935 gambling act, which is outdated, Rattaphong said.
With this outdated law, it can hardly keep up with this new emerging trend of casinos along the borders, which would spur what he calls “ a huge profit” as well as other “dark” activities.
“The challenge is whether the Thai state has realised this fact and come up with proper policies and measures to address this emergence,” said Rattaphong.
The professor suggested that the state review the existing law and come up with responsive regulations and controls for each type.
“Everything is not all black or white. There are different shades for us to deal with,” he said.
The opening of the new casino came under the spotlight after anti-corruption activist Veera Somkwamkid claimed in his Facebook posts that the gambling centre was located in an overlapping border area between Thailand and Cambodia, and possibly sited in the Ta Phraya National Park, which forms part of a World Heritage Site.
Veera questioned why the military government had allowed this to happen, and suspected that the previous post he had made on the same issue had led to a warrant being issued for his arrest over a week ago for violation of the Computer Crime Act.
The casino is reported to be situated close to the Chong Sai Takoo border checkpoint in Buri Ram province where former politician Newin Chidchob, now a football-club owner, is known to be influential.
Newin on Monday filed a complaint with the police seeking charges against the Facebook account owner, apparently Veera, for posts that he claimed had also implicated him of involvement with the casino, Nation TV reported.
But in his post last Sunday, Veera did not mention Newin, but referred to some close aides of Cambodian leaders.
He also alleged that Thailand’s National Parks Department was being negligent in carrying out its duty.
This resulted in the agency undertaking an examination of the official map of the national park to prove that the casino was not located within its perimeter, followed by a prompt denial of Veera’s allegation
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said on Tuesday that the Cabinet had not considered at its weekly meeting the issue of the new casino being allegedly sited on an adjoining territory between Thailand and Cambodia. The Foreign Ministry has also not written to Cambodian authorities regarding the matter, he said.
Don added that a number of casinos had opened in border areas without posing any problems.