Professor Dr Kriengsak Chareonwongsak
Executive Director, Institute of Future Studies for Development (IFD)
This article was first published in the Bangkok Post on August 3, 2003 after the government raised the idea that legal casinos could be established in Thailand. The government expected that legalization of casinos would reduce the problem of crimes, Mafia activity, and money smuggling for gambling in foreign countries. Further more it will open an additional venue for income for the government. This article cautioned the government to be more careful in implementing such a policy.
In an attempt to address the problems caused by illegal gambling, the government has mooted the idea of introducing legal casinos, which would have the spin-off effect of generating extra tax revenue.
There are, though, other ways of tackling problems associated with illegal gambling. For example, implementing a tough crackdown and proper law enforcement. The private sector and the mass media can cooperate in disseminating information on the problems associated with gambling, while other substitutable legal pursuits, such as sports, health centers and community activities can be promoted.
Before any decision is make on legal casinos, both the positive and the negative impacts should be considered.
On the plus side, legal gambling will involve initial investment, and related service industries will flourish. The government will be able to tax the casinos, and some gamblers who previously would have traveled abroad to spend their money would now spend it in the country. The government will also be able to regulate and supervise gambling and related activities, although this will involve some administrative costs.
On the negative side, since the costs of accessing gambling will be decreased, and without the risk of arrest or ill repute, more people will gamble. And, with more people involved, casinos may trigger higher rates of crime, compelling the government to spend more on arrests, legal cases and imprisonment. There could be other costs, too, such as assisting people who lose their jobs through excessive gambling.
Legal casinos could also involve social costs, such as family problems caused by excessive gambling – from divorce to abandoned children.
Thus, before legal casinos are established, the government should research all the social costs involved since the tax income from casinos and related businesses may not be sufficient to offset the burden of higher social costs.