Industry experts predict that Thailand will legalize casino gambling within the next three years, setting off a rush of interest from international and regional operators. However, the specifics of who will be involved and how the regulatory landscape will be structured remain unclear, leaving many potential stakeholders on the edge of their seats.
“Thailand will do ‘it,’ but the question is what the ‘it’ will look like,” says James Kaplan, CEO of Destination Capital. This uncertainty hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of gaming companies eyeing Thailand as a promising market with significant potential for success.
Thailand, with its status as a regional business hub and a global tourist destination, along with a growing domestic interest in gaming, has the potential to become a major player in the gaming industry. It has a unique opportunity to carve out a niche and become one of the most successful gaming jurisdictions globally.
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Obstacles and Challenges
Despite the promise, Thailand faces significant challenges on the path to legalizing and regulating the gaming industry. The country ranks 101st in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, indicating potential issues with transparency and accountability. Additionally, opposition to gambling ranges from religious leaders to underground casino operators.
The political landscape in Thailand has also seen its fair share of tumult, with the largest parliamentary party excluded from the government. These challenges have added complexity to the process of legalizing and regulating online casino operations too.
Interest from Major Players
Major gaming companies, both domestic and international, are closely monitoring developments in Thailand. Hard Rock International has expressed a strong interest in developing a multi-billion-dollar integrated resort in the country. Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson had shown enthusiasm for Thailand back in 2005, and current Sands chairman and CEO Robert Goldstein has expressed similar interest.
Galaxy Entertainment Group, a prominent player in Macau, is also keeping an eye on Thailand. Buddy Lam, GEG’s executive vice-president, believes Thailand could attract significant attention if it decides to open up for integrated resort development.
Changing Times and Favorable Factors
While previous attempts to legalize gambling in Thailand faced roadblocks, the current situation appears more favorable. Thailand’s government is under pressure to raise revenue due to public debt being at 58% of GDP. Legalizing and regulating casinos could help capture revenue from casinos located near Thailand’s borders and tax it.
Additionally, the political landscape has shifted since the staunch casino opponent, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away in 2016. Recent polls show that most Thais are open to the idea of casino legalization, and support for the move seems to be growing.
Complex Entertainment Complexes
A parliamentary study released earlier this year proposed the creation of up to five “entertainment complexes,” similar to integrated resorts (IRs) in Singapore and Macau. These complexes would aim to generate tax revenue and feature a range of amenities, including casinos, hotels, shopping centers, convention facilities, and potentially sports betting and online gaming.
Thailand’s tourism industry, which accounted for a significant portion of the country’s GDP before the pandemic, may benefit from these entertainment complexes, especially in attracting higher-spending tourists.
Regulatory Structure and Challenges
The success of Thailand’s casino industry will depend on the regulatory structure it adopts. Many experts believe that Thailand should look to models like Singapore for inspiration, emphasizing probity requirements, anti-money laundering measures, and strict regulation to ensure the industry’s integrity.
However, aligning the interests of various stakeholders and navigating the country’s political landscape could prove challenging. Some believe that Thailand may need to adapt the regulatory framework to accommodate international operators fully.
While Thailand’s path to legalizing and regulating casinos is not without challenges, there is a growing consensus that the country has the potential to develop a dynamic and successful gaming industry. The changing political landscape, economic considerations, and a shift in public sentiment all point to a brighter future for casino gambling in Thailand. Whether it becomes the next major gaming hub in Asia will depend on how it navigates the complexities of regulation and partnerships with domestic and international stakeholders.