Vol. 5 Num 460 Sat. September 10, 2005  

Thaksin revives gamble on casinos

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has revived his plan to introduce casinos to Thailand as a last-ditch gamble to boost the sagging tourism industry amid increased competition from rival Asian destinations, the tourism and sports minister said Thursday.

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

"Thailand needs a new tourism magnet to lure more international tourists and local travellers," he said.

The Disneyland theme park is expected to divert potential foreign travellers to Hong Kong, especially from China, one of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's main target markets.

Pracha said Thaksin 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 the four regions. Two of the casinos will be located in existing tourism hotspots such as Phuket or Pattaya, and two will 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.