Thailand considers legalising casinos

Due to restrictions put in place by Thailand’s Gambling Act of 1935, many Thais choose to either gamble illegally at one of the numerous underground casinos that have sprung up around the country, or in a neighbouring state where gambling is permitted

Gambling has existed in various forms across the world throughout history, experiencing both tolerance and prohibition depending on the period of time and locality. Since the 1930s, Thailand's relationship with gambling of all kinds has been tense. The first half of the 20th century saw the country pass the 1935 Gambling Act, prohibiting all forms of cash betting aside from the state lottery, and on horse races at state-licensed racecourses. By comparison, its neighbours Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore have taken steps to legalise gambling, constructing casino complexes designed to attract tourists and boost their economies. 

Due to restrictions put in place by Thailand’s Gambling Act of 1935, many Thais choose to either gamble illegally at one of the numerous underground casinos that have sprung up around the country, or in a neighbouring state where gambling is permitted. To address this tendency and entice international investment, the Thai government is contemplating legalising casinos, as part of an effort to boost tourism and revive the country's pandemic-stricken economy. 

Initial steps 

A group of Thai parliamentarians has recently proposed revising the country's 1935 Gambling Act, allowing the government to grant licenses for certain gaming activities and in certain locations. Recently, the group presented the findings of a survey regarding the issue to Parliament, suggesting the government issue a decree enabling the construction of "entertainment complexes" containing legally operating casinos, in strategic locations around the country. 

The plan is being proposed at a time when Thailand is working to revitalise its tourism sector, and, if implemented successfully, has the potential to attract billions of dollars from visitors, tourists and gamblers who might otherwise go elsewhere. 

The Thailand Casino Committee has indicated five possible sites for casino resorts around the country, including Northern Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Eastern Pattaya City, Southern Phuket, Phang-nga, Krabi, Northern Ubon Ratchathani, Eastern Udon Thani, Eastern Khon Kaen and Central Bangkok. 

In general, Thailand seems to be shifting toward a more permissive legal climate. In addition to the proposed amendments to gambling laws, Thailand made history this year by becoming the first Asian nation to legalise cannabis, and the first Southeast Asian nation to take steps toward legalising same-sex partnerships. 

The current South Asian landscape 

There are already many competitors in the Asian integrated resort sector, which includes hotels, casinos, conference facilities, luxury shops, themed attractions and cuisine and entertainment centres. In addition to regional powerhouses like Macau and Singapore, other countries in the area boasting integrated resorts include Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia and even Japan. 

Various Asian cities are now working to attract Chinese visitors hesitant to visit Macau due to the country's zero-Covid policy. An oft-cited example of successful progressive legislation is Singapore, which has just two integrated resorts — Marina Bay Sands, which is oriented more towards business customers, and Resorts World Sentosa, geared more towards tourism and leisure. 

Despite these successes, there are no assurances that Thailand’s proposed resort sites will be able to attract the critical business currently underpinning Macau's casino industry. If this turns out to be the case, Thailand may risk investing heavily without reaping significant rewards. 


There are no specific laws regarding online gambling in Thailand, and local players continue to play at online casinos and gaming websites hosted outside of the country. This effectively limits Thailand’s government in its efforts to regulate or otherwise control online gambling portals. Additionally, it is almost impossible for local authorities to consistently supervise this activity due to the large number of international casinos and gambling websites that welcome Thai players. 

As such, in-person gaming activities are the main focus of the government's anti-gambling efforts due to the relative ease in which they can be monitored and regulated. 


Despite the government's best efforts, not everybody is in favour of revising the country's Gambling Act.  There are various religious and secular moral objections that have been raised in response to the move. This is significant as religion, in particular, plays an important role in Thai culture; while Buddhism does not specifically forbid gambling, it is highly disapproving of theft and fraud — both of which are often associated with gambling.  Several non-profit organisations have also taken a stand against the gambling industry due to the risks of harm it poses to neighbourhoods located in proximity to casinos. 


At the time of writing, it seems likely that Thailand will follow many of its Asian neighbours’ example and amend its current gambling legislation. Until that time, however, Thai citizens seem likely to continue spending their money in countries where gambling is permitted — a situation Thailand may wish to change in the long term.  

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