Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said on Friday that he is open to the idea of legal gambling venues in Thailand, to help curb the spread of Covid-19 at underground venues.
The PM commented during a videoconference with local officials in Tak province that there need to be a public discussion about the possibility of allowing gambling venues to open in Thailand, according to Thaweesin Visanuyothin, the spokesman of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
“Some part of the society is willing to accept it but some part of the society is still not open to the idea,” he quoted the premier as saying. Gambling has been outlawed in the kingdom since 1935.
The PM’s comments came after a second wave of Covid-19 infections has been attributed in part to illegal gambling dens across the country, and to gamblers who cross illegally into Myanmar to visit casinos there before sneaking back across the border to avoid quarantine.
Illegal gambling dens have contributed to outbreak clusters in Rayong, Chonburi and Chanthaburi. Illegal returnees have contributed to most of the cases that were found in Chiang Rai and Tak.
The premier said earlier this week that the problem of illegal gambling dens in Thailand stems from the Thai people’s need to gamble, which he could not understand. He asked for citizens to help address the problem, saying even one hundred PMs could not fix it alone.
His comments prompted pubic criticism. Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, co-founder of the pro-democracy protest group Ratsadon, said a hundred PMs would be unable to help only if they were all like Prayut.
Jatupat and Police General Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, former chief of police and current leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, have called for the PM to resign if he believes that he cannot fix this problem, because other people can.
Korn Chatikavanij, leader of the Kla Party, said on Thursday that one PM would be enough to fix the problem if he were brave enough to legalize gambling.
Prayut said the way to stop the virus spreading through gambling dens was for everyone to stop gambling.
Korn said the way to help fix the problem is almost the opposite, namely to allow people to gamble legally at regulated venues. He also said that legalizing gambling would increase tax revenue.
When asked by Thai Enquirer on Friday whether his party would be willing to work with the government to legalize gambling, he said the party would wait to see “genuine commitment” from the government first.
“Kla is willing to work with everyone to ensure successful design and execution of such an important policy,” he said.
The goals of such a legalization, he said, should be to: eradicate illegal gambling dens through competition; lure Thai gamblers back from overseas casinos; attract overseas gamblers to Thai legal casinos; and generate revenue for the government.