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Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has confirmed that he is now considering legalising gambling in a bid to curb the growth of illegal gambling dens.

The Bangkok Post reports that Prayut is said to be open to holding public discussions on the pros and cons of legalising gambling despite being opposed to the idea himself.

In particular, the Prime Minister is concerned that Thailand’s most recent COVID-19 outbreak has been largely attributed to illegal gambling dens, with Taweesilp Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), confirming Friday that Prayut was ready to discuss the idea. Prayut is Chairman of the CCSA.

According to Visanuyothin, the key question for Prayut is whether gambling can be considered morally acceptable by the majority of Thais.

The issue of casino development in Thailand is not a new one, having most recently been raised following the passing of highly-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016 after 70 years on the Thai throne. A year earlier, none other than Las Vegas Sands Corp had expressed its interest in developing a casino resort in a major Thai city, preferably Bangkok, should the opportunity arise. Sands is well-known for preferring to develop its mega-IRs in cities with large populations.

Thailand remains one of only three ASEAN nations without legal casinos, alongside Indonesia and Brunei, although it has been estimated that as many as half of its adult population gambles via illegal means. With a population of almost 70 million, Thailand is the world’s 20th most populous country.

The prospect of genuine discussions over casino gambling comes as Prayut approved on Friday the formation of a 10-member committee to inspect the investigations by state officials into cases of illegal gambling. The Royal Thai Police is currently looking into the actions of police officers in Nonthaburi, part of Greater Bangkok, who are alleged to have turned a blind eye to an illegal gambling den that was raided and shut down last week.

Were casinos to be legalised in Thailand, it could severely affect the profitability of Cambodian and Lao properties on their borders with Thailand. These properties rely heavily on traffic from Thailand and include casinos in Poipet, Cambodia, and the three casinos in Laos – Savan Legend in Savannakhet, Dansavanh near Vientiane and King’s Roman in the Golden Triangle near the point where the Thai, Laos and Myanmar borders meet.

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