Thailand considers gambling and tourism

The new prime minister of Thailand, Samak Sindaravej, is positioning his country to become a real contender in the international gaming industry. He recently announced plans to legalize gambling and to build five casinos in Chuang Mai, Khon Kaen, Phuket, Hat Yai and Pattaya. The new casinos are expected to generate new interest in the traditional tourist regions, drawing both foreign and domestic visitors.

Laws outlawing gambling in Thailand have had little effect on the still thriving industry. For years it has been common knowledge that police were often turning a blind eye to illegal gaming parlors in exchange for monetary consideration from the gambling den operators. If they didn’t want to patronize the illegal establishments, Thais could easily cross into the neighboring countries of Myanmar and Cambodia where casinos have proliferated along the border.

Samak’s philosophy on gambling is that “Thais who want to gamble, can gamble. The police can do other jobs instead of cracking down on illegal gambling dens”. I’m sure the economic impact that legalized gambling has had on other Asian countries hasn’t escaped Samak’s attention either. As he also states, “It will bring tourist dollars into the country”.

Cambodia Casinos / Thai Investors

Cambodia began getting into the lucrative and rapidly growing gaming industry in the 1990’s. With much of the capital coming from Thai investors, casinos began springing up along the border with Thailand. There are now 8 casinos in the small border town of Poipet making it the second biggest gambling center in Asia. Gambling operations have started in other border areas, as well, including the Vietnamese border, as the small country tries to boost it’s economy with tourist dollars.

Latest Macau casinos to open

The most long-standing and famous gambling spot is Macau, of course. Gambling has been legal there for over a hundred years but really expanded since the Chinese rule began in 1999. Often billed as the “Las Vegas of Asia”, Macau has seen it’s gambling industry revenues rival or possibly surpass it’s Western counterpart. Last year was a banner year for the country with profits in excess of $8 billion dollars and a record breaking tourist level of over 27 million arrivals. Most recently, MGM Casino opened it’s doors in December, and Ponte 16 Casino opened this year in Feburary.

South Korean gaming market is cashing in – three more casino opened in 2007 

South Korea is another small Asian nation that has recognized the potential of the gambling industry to revitalize their economy. Three more casinos opened last year, bringing South Korea to a total of 17 gaming locations. One South Korean newspaper put it into perspective with this editorial comment, “If 11 foreigners visit a casino, they will spend the equivalent of one exported car”.

Asian casino and gambling summary:

Other Asian countries have been taking their share of the gambling industry revenues including MalaysiaNepalLaos and Vietnam. Singapore is in the process of building two casino resorts, with the first scheduled to open next year (you can read our article about this in the Sept. newsletter). Still more Asian countries are considering legalizing casino gambling such as Japan and Hong Kong. It’s easy to see that Asian governments are in agreement with Jonathan Galaviz of Globalysis, a U.S. casino consulting firm. He stated, “Asia is without a doubt the most promising market for the expansion of the global casino gaming industry”.

There are many factors affecting the rapid evolution of the Asian gambling market. Various Asian currencies have experienced huge gains as the value of the American dollar has declined. Many Asian countries are having rapid economic improvements as industry has moved from the U.S. and Europe into the less expensive Asian communities. Several studies have been done and their findings predict a huge rise in affluence which will create millions of Asian consumers more than ready to spend cash on entertainment over the next few years.

The Chinese are a major part of the gambling boom. Couple China’s rising affluence with the traditional Chinese love of gambling and you have a combination made in a casino operator’s dreams. As the Chinese economy continues to grow, the Chinese people will have an ever increasing disposable income to use for gaming. Many of the hottest gambling spots in Asia depend on their Chinese visitors.

Another factor that sustains the Asian gambling boom is the backing from U.S. and European casino companies. These established gambling operations have long been investing in casinos in Asia. The Las Vegas Sands Corporation has invested in casino resorts in Macau and is injecting over $3 billion dollars into Singapore’s first casino resort project. European companies have become even more interested in the Asian gambling market since being shut out of the American market last year by new U.S. legislation restricting the gambling industry in that country.

Casino companies are planning on pumping up to 71 billion dollars into Asia gambling markets in just the next five years alone. Gaming industry executives are preparing for expansion as more countries consider legalizing gambling. Larry Woolf is one Las Vegas gaming executive who believes he has a perfect spot for Taiwan’s first casino. He has been gathering land rights to a large area on the island of Penghu for several years in preparation of legalization. The Chief Operating Officer of Woolf’s company, Amazing Holdings, summed it up nicely, “We’ve put ourselves in position to take advantage when gaming is legalized”.

Globalization is also influencing the rise of the Asian gambling industry. As technology improves and reaches into even the poorest villages, the Asian peoples are being exposed to a wider variety of interests and philosophies. Traditionally insular and a mostly closed society, modern Asians are experiencing new ideas at a rapid rate never before seen. As they see the usual standards of living found in much of the West, they begin to want that for themselves. Governments are realizing that regulating gambling instead of restricting it will bring tourists and money into their countries, boosting their economies even higher.

The Asian market is the next frontier for international gambling concerns, with billions of new consumers at stake. The international consulting firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers has predicted that profits from gambling interests in Asia will grow 14% annually until at least 2010 which is greater growth than any other gambling market in the world. The casino operators are betting on Asia to be the most lucrative market yet in gaming history and it looks good that they’ll win their bet.