Bangkok resurrects casinos plan

BANGKOK (The Nation): The government has revived its plan to introduce casinos to Thailand as a way to boost the sagging tourism industry amid increased competition from rival Asian destinations, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Pracha Maleenont, said yesterday.

K. Pracha said the “one region one casino” initiative was proposed in response to the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland this month and the expected opening of two casinos in Singapore in the next few years.

“Thailand needs a new tourism magnet to lure more international tourists and local travelers,” he said.

The Disneyland theme park is expected to divert potential foreign travelers to Hong Kong, especially travelers from China, one of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) main target markets.

Pracha said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had assigned the Government Lottery Office to conduct a feasibility study that should be completed by the end of this year.

The government wants to build at least four casinos in the Kingdom, he said, one each in four of Thailand’s six regions. Two of the casinos would be located in existing tourism hotspots such as Phuket or Pattaya, and two would be built in less popular locations.

“If we want more tourism income we should start putting this thing on our tourism map. The casinos will also help the economy to recover,” Pracha said.

Thailand has suffered a sharp decline in tourism since the tsunami. In the first half of the year, fewer than 6 million tourists visited Thailand, well off the pace to reach the tourism authority’s target of 13.4 million visitors for the entire year.

Despite complaints from private travel organizations that the government was slow to help the industry, K. Pracha said he was confident that the TAT could attract 6 million tourists in the remaining four months of the year. Topping the list of target travelers are Chinese, Japanese and Koreans.

PM Thaksin first unveiled his casino plan a year ago, but he was strongly criticized by devout Buddhists who said the casinos would promote gambling and spark social problems. In Phuket, the plan appeared to be opposed by most local people.

Phuket News
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