Thursday, March 13, 2008

The argument for legalised casinos

There's been a lot of debate in the media recently concerning Samak's suggestion that he may introduce casinos into Thailand. The main objection to this idea seems to be that it's "against Buddhism" or morally wrong in some other form.

Well, I'm no fan of Samak of course but I actually support the idea of legalised casinos. Let me give my response to some of the objections.

It's against Buddhist practice.

As a keen admirer of Buddhism myself, I'm not sure I agree. The Buddha himself was always keen to stress that Buddhism should not be a dogmatic philosophy, or one dominated by hierarchy or doctrine (which is why we see relatively few acts of violence or power struggle from the Buddhist communities). Still it's true that gambling is discouraged in Buddhist ethics, but then so is consumption of drugs (alcohol), sexual promiscuity and lying. If we truly enforced all of these, how many of us would be legal? My point is that legalised casinos is not a sign of some great moral corruption or an abolition of Thai values. It's simply allowing people to make a choice.

It will encourage more people to gamble.

Make no mistake, people in Thailand who want to gamble already do. For a start, we already have legalised gambling with the national lottery. Secondly, almost any Thai knows where his/her nearest illegal gambling den is, who the Jao Pho is and how much it costs to "keep it open". So just because the practise is made legal, will thousands more rush out to irresponsibly gamble away their cash? I'd say it's no more likely than people rushing out to buy a copy of the new Tata Young album because it's available on an original CD instead of a copy.

It sends out the wrong message

Actually I think its ends out the right message. Instead of the government patronising people by effectively saying "Gambling is wrong and you must not do it" , it is saying "You can make the choice to gamble or not, but you must be an adult and of sound mind". Where is the 'wrong message' in that?

It's just to make money for the politicians

Of course it is.And of course the politicians will be very keen to "negotiate" with the casino companies when they vie for a licence. But the reality is that the phu yai have been making money from gambling dens for a long time now. The only difference is that legal gambling will generate tax revenue and at least some of that sum should go towards schools or hospitals or so on.

A study by Pasuk Phongpaichit and two colleagues estimated that in 1996, the profits from illegal casinos in Bangkok alone amounted to anywhere from 27, 286 to 134, 780 million baht! And those figures are over ten years old! Just think how much a fraction of that money could help schools or libraries.

So that's my take. I try to look at emotive issues from a pragmatic point of view, and in this case all the practical arguments seem to favour legalisation. What do you think?

1 comment:

tizzo said...

couldn't agree more, well written!

valueing material things is also against true buddhism, and look at the thai society just to see how thats turning out. Monks with ipods and mobile phones in an internet café, shopping mall after shopping mall, you name it.

To say its against buddhism is a hypocritical argument, sadly. But like you said, it should never become a dogma, so these things being allowed are fine by me (and I think necessary for the country's and its people's development), but then dont cross a random line somewhere if you dont like where it's heading using the buddhism argument.

On a sidenote, I can already see the politicians buying their new condos and ferraris, their childeren shopping some extra at Paragon with the money theyre putting in their pockets if these casino deals go through. It's time for a true division of the executive, judical and legislative branches; Trias Policita.

Monsieur Montèsquieu, vous êtes où?