Legalize casinos and make a profit, says former massage parlor owner

Former massage parlor tycoon Chuwit Kamolvisit advocates legalized gambling. Apichart Jinakul

Former politician and massage parlor tycoon Chuwit Kamolvisit has voiced his support for a move to legalize casinos, saying it would be a huge revenue stream for the government and attract foreign visitors.

Mr Chuwit, known as a political maverick and media arsonist, said people should accept the truth that vices, including gambling, are enjoyed by many Thais.

“We should stop pretending [that vices do not exist]. The police should also stop raiding casinos. Shady activities are a conduit for some authorities to seek ill-gotten gains and should be legalized now,” he said.

He also said that several illegal gambling dens were operating right under the noses of the police and with their knowledge.

“Without the green light from the police, these illegal dens cannot operate. Therefore, legalized gambling should curb dens,” he said.

In the past, some illegal gambling dens offered money to certain state officials in exchange for their support. Those officials then used the money to buy their positions, Mr Chuwit said.

“Now is the time to make them legal,” Mr Chuwit said, further describing a casino as “just a minor vice, not a serious one”.

Under the law, illegal gambling is considered a minor crime and can only be punished with a fine or a suspended prison sentence, Mr Chuwit said.

“Gambling is one of the vices in society. No society can escape it. But we try to pretend they don’t exist. Some argue that prostitution does not exist, but massage parlors do exist in the heart of the capital.

“Some refuse to accept that illegal gambling dens exist. Several police-raid caves are luxurious, air-conditioned facilities controlled by software systems. Also, gambling has now gone online,” Mr Chuwit said.

Legal casinos increase government revenue

Mr Chuwit said the government needed money to fund its aid programs to ease the economic impact of Covid-19 along with high fuel prices and the rising cost of living.

Under the current circumstances, government coffers are exhausted as tax collection has not met targets, Mr Chuwit said.

“Therefore the government should think about making casinos legal. A House committee has been set up to study the feasibility of building a casino as part of an entertainment complex,” Mr. Chuwit said.

“In fact, several neighboring countries have already opened such complexes. You have made big investments. You have ways to generate revenue with membership schemes. Thailand may be slow, but it has yet to miss an opportunity.

“Thailand is still in a more advantageous position because the country is so heavily geared towards tourism and the service industry, so we can get started right away,” said Mr. Chuwit.

He said the country should develop a strategy to diversify its tourism products to offer visitors a broader and more diverse tourism experience.

“Tourists will not come here just to see canals or temples,” he said.

“Some may avoid mentioning Patpong or these vices. Some say the country is a Buddhist society and this is contrary to Buddhism. But those vices are still there.

“If you accept and legalize it, build legal entertainment complexes with casinos and hotels, they will attract a lot of tourists,” Mr Chuwit said.

“Thailand has everything to offer. There is only one more hurdle to overcome – accepting the truth about these little vices. I think the casino industry can make a significant contribution to the country’s economy.”

However, Mr Chuwit said legalized gambling would not put illegal gambling out of business.

“This was also the case with the underground lottery. It still exists and thrives despite the state lottery. Likewise, illegal dens,” he said.

“But the government would be able to levy additional taxes and revenue from legal gambling houses and encourage tourism. When you enter legit casinos you don’t have to worry about scams. No thugs, hooligans or gunmen would be allowed in,” Mr Chuwit said.

“Legal casinos can screen guests. The age limit is set. Customers must show ID.

“In illegal dens, people can commit crimes and get away with it. Some could sell and supply drugs on these premises,” Mr Chuwit said.

On June 29, the House Committee discussed ideas for legalizing casinos to generate revenue, collect taxes from complexes, and curb illegal casinos, slot machines, and online gambling.

According to the committee, Thailand could host five casinos – one in each of the five regions.

Pichet Chuamuangphan, vice chairman of the House Committee, said the feasibility study will take a year and be based on business models from many countries, including Singapore and Malaysia.

The main goal of entertainment complexes in Thailand is to create jobs, attract foreign visitors and generate additional revenue for the country, he said.

A plan to operate a casino in each of the country’s five regions will be submitted to the government, he said.

Mr Pichet said the government would give a private company a concession for any facility in which it could invest. The government expects to collect 30% in taxes from each entertainment complex, he said.

In terms of clientele, the committee suggests that clients must be at least 20 years old and in good financial standing to gamble. State officials would not be permitted to enter such places unless they had a valid permit.

Mr Chuwit said police had been trying to crack down on illegal dens for more than a decade, to no avail.

“The police searched and made arrests. Shortly thereafter, they open again and the cycle repeats itself. Corresponding laws should be revised in order to impose hefty fines on the operators of illegal caves.

All inclusive complexes

Mr Chuwit said there are four locations that have the potential to open casinos – Pattaya, Koh Larn, Bangkok and Phuket – and casino complexes should be all-inclusive, with cocktail lounges, massage parlors and entertainment facilities or even amusement parks.

Workers at legalized casinos pay taxes and are entitled to benefits like Social Security and health checks, he said.

“That’s what we should be doing instead of banning it. If we wait too long before opening casinos, customers will migrate to neighboring countries,” Mr Chuwit said.

He also called on the government to allow nightclubs to stay open until the early hours.

“Thailand is advertised as a tourist destination but they have to close early. For example, nightclubs in Phuket should be allowed to stay open until 5am. why be shy Today Pattaya has the pedestrian street with crowded bars,” said Mr. Chuwit.

Referendum on legalized casino

But if people are still at odds about legalizing casinos, the government should step in and hold a referendum so people can vote on the matter, Mr Chuwit said.

“A referendum should be held because the issue affects everyone,” Mr Chuwit said, adding that the government should also take action to prevent young children from entering casinos by introducing membership schemes.

“Sooner or later, Thailand will inevitably reach the point [where casinos will be legalised],” he said.

He said a casino location should be easily accessible and already a tourist destination. It can be an island.

“You can regulate vices and keep them in moderation. In reality, Thais are only three steps away from vices,” Mr Chuwit said.

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