Thais Seek To Bar Gamblers At the Border

Plans by Thailand’s Interior Ministry to further prevent Thai nationals from gambling in Cambodia’s border casinos were criticized by Cambodian government officials Monday, who said the move is undemocratic and could spell economic disaster for Cambodia’s booming cross-border casino business.

Gambling is illegal in Thailand, and the proposed restrictions on border crossings in seven Thai provinces could prevent anticipated social and security problems resulting from casinos opening in Cambodia, Burma and Laos, Khachadpai Burusapatana, Thai­land’s National Security Council secretary-general, was reported as saying Friday in The Nation newspaper.

Among the proposed measures is restricting the power of Thai provincial governors to open border checkpoints.

Also, residents in four of the seven border provinces named by the Interior Ministry must produce housing registration documents more than six months old to be eligible for a border pass.

Temporary border passes allowing Thai citizens to enter Cambodia without a visa or passport have been in operation for a number of years to assist in cross-border trade between communities on either side of the border.

But the pass system has recently been criticized by Thai officials for allowing hundreds of gamblers from Thailand to cross into Cambodia each day to take advantage of this country’s legal gambling privileges for foreigners.

The proposed restrictions were labeled undemocratic Monday by Banteay Meanchey province Governor Thach Khorn, whose border town of Poipet has four casinos in operation and another two planned.

Keeping Thai citizens from entering Cambodia violates government agreements on the free movement of nationals between both countries, Thach Khorn said.

Thach Khorn also criticized plans to restrict the temporary border pass system, saying that only a tiny percentage of Thai gamblers who use the casinos abuse the passes.

The majority of Poipet’s gamblers are from Bangkok and use all the proper documentation to enter Cambodia, Thach Khorn said.

“If they restrict the border passes the Cambodian side will not lose anything because most of the people who come from Bangkok have visas and passports….This will not be a problem for the casinos unless they ban all Thai people from visiting Cambodia,” Thach Khorn said.

So Victor, undersecretary of state at the Finance Ministry, said Monday the Thai government’s success in reducing the number of Thais traveling to Cambodian casinos would be disastrous for the border casino business, which has seen phenomenal growth in recent years catering almost exclusively to Thais.

Millions of foreign and Cambodian investment dollars have been poured in hotel and casino projects in Poipet, Pailin and Koh Kong province, So Victor said.

“If they can implement these restrictions it will be a big problem for the casinos,” So Victor said.

However, a Cambodian government official familiar with the cross-border casino business said Monday the Thai government has attempted in the past to restrict border access to the casinos but has failed.

Thai officials in provinces bordering Cambodia have been uncooperative in moves to stop the flow of Thais to Cambodian casinos as they themselves are involved in Cambodian casino projects, said the official.

“They have tried before but were unsuccessful…[Border passes] have created a lot of trade on the border and created money for [Thai officials] who are involved [in the casinos],” the official said.

A Thai diplomatic source said Monday that gambling by Thai citizens spending their money in Cambodia rather than Thailand creates a serious economic drain that must be discouraged if Thailand’s economy is to fully recover from the 1997 economic crash.

The diplomat denied allegations that provincial Thai officials were dragging their feet on the casino issue because of their own interests in the business.

“If they are involved it will cause trouble for them….They could be transferred,” the diplomat said.





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