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Thai casino plan provoke

Newport Casino in ThailandThailand's new prime minister Samak Sundaravej's proposal to introduce casinos to the Kingdom has received a mixed response.

Presenter: Christine Webster
Speakers: Sarawat Pratoomraj, a Human Rights Lawyer in Thailand; Doctor Sirichat Sangkaman from Chulalongkorn University

CROUPIER: Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

WEBSTER: Thailand's Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej says he wants five casinos built in Phuket, Pattaya, Khon Kaen, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai.
Under his proposal, tourists would be able to gamble for free, but Thai citizens would have to pay an annual membership fee of between 1,500 to 3,000 US dollars and be more than 20 years old.

Dr Sirichat Sangkaman, from Chulalongkorn University's Social Research Institute supports the idea of casinos being allowed in Thailand, but he says they need to be closely regulated, and their operators should pay taxes which will go to the Thai community.

SANGKAMAN: The profit or the money that come in, how they use that kind of money to work part of the road meant, be for education and child development.

WEBSTER: Sarawat Pratoomraj is a human rights lawyer in Thailand, who has seen the poverty illegal gambling can cause. He says in rural villages, when funerals are held, a game where people bet on numbers drawn from a box is often played for three to five days. But Mr Sarawat says the average Thai person isn't interested in gambling, and believes the proposal is a selfish move by Thailand's government.

PRATOOMRAJ: Imagine why, we think about the way of the gambling is not the habit of culture of the nationwide. Only the business sector or the politician will get benefit from the national legalisation of the gambling.

WEBSTER: Mr Sarawat says the prime minister called for casinos to be introduced to Thailand during his early days as a politician.

PRATOOMRAJ: During the country under the military rule, he visit abroad, may be Australia, I'm not sure and then he said, oh, Thailand should be the same as the foreign country, our friend to have gambling like the United States or in Australia and he compare to Thai people, that Thai people always go to Cambodia border to have a gambling there. So they get lots of money.

WEBSTER: At present, Thais often visit casinos over the border in neighbouring Cambodia and Burma.

Dr. Sirichat Sangkaman, from Chulalongkorn University, says it makes sense to encourage people in Thailand to spend money at casinos in their own country.

He also believes making gambling legal in Thailand would help clean up the industry, and says underground gambling is one of the root causes of crime in the kingdom.

SANGKAMAN: So that you can know where the money come and where the money goes.

WEBSTER: At the moment, is gambling still happening in Thailand, despite it being illegal?

SANGKAMAN; Yes.

WEBSTER: And, is that a bad situation? What's happening to the money? Is it underground, is it creating crime?

SANGKAMAN: Yes, creating crime, corruption and crooked officers, especially in the legal department. In the political term, may be the underground money can come in and make the (word indistinct) easier.

WEBSTER: But Sarawat Pratoomraj disagrees. He says the introduction of lotteries by the Thaksin Government has already caused more crime.

Dr Sarawat says casinos will lead to more social problems and fool people into thinking they can make money quickly.

PRATOOMRAJ: When if their organised gambling house is that kind of city, the people will not work. They will go to the gambling house and they think that they will get money from them, from that place, eh. They don't want to work anymore and they ... think that they can get the money easily by go to the gambling house or go to the casino.

CROUPIER: Get your bets down ladies and gentlemen, get your bets.