The push to legalize casinos in Thailand appears to be gathering momentum, though experts say any reforms are unlikely to have much of an impact on the thriving illegal market, which is estimated at more than $5 billion a year. Academics in the country, who focus on gaming, say there is increasing confidence that the issue of casinos will be raised again after the next general election, expected in late 2018. It would be the most significant step in gaming industry reforms since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
Thailand would be a major draw for foreign investors were it to legalize its casino industry and would likely provide significant competition for other regional jurisdictions, according to panelists at the recent ASEAN Gaming Summit. The Southeast Asian country already has well-established tourist infrastructure pulling in more than 32 million visitors a year, though the real draw would be if locals were allowed to gamble.
Thailand, whose conservative Buddhist society has long been opposed to gambling, has again renewed the debate over legalizing casinos as the government eyes a potential boost to tax revenue and tourism numbers. The discussion comes amid signs the public view may be changing, with surveys pointing to growing support for legal casinos, which could generate more than $2.7 billion in annual tax revenue and boost foreign tourist arrivals by up to 50 percent, according to recent studies, backed by the Thai Excise Department.