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Thailand racing to open IR before Japan but faces legislative hurdles: Panelists

In a round table on the last day of the gaming conference held in Macau, legal experts delved into Thailand’s prospects and challenges surrounding the development of a gaming market and integrated resorts (IRs).

The conversation highlighted the country’s aspirations to become a significant player in the gaming and tourism sectors, potentially beating Japan to open its first casino.

In September of last year, the Osaka Prefectural Government inked a deal with Osaka IR to develop an integrated resort featuring Japan’s inaugural casino on Yumeshima Island in Osaka Bay, slated for opening in autumn of 2030.

Lau Kok Keng
Lau Kok Keng, Head of Gaming Law Practice, Rajah & Tann Singapore

“The Thais are desperate to beat the Japanese to open their first casino by 2029, aiming to outpace Osaka’s planned opening in 2030,” Lau Kok Keng, Partner and Head of Gaming Law Practice at Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP said, concerning the current legislative process and the government’s ambitious timeline.

However, he admitted that the legislative process in the country will be complex and laden with delays.

After the bill is accepted and approved by the Ministry of Finance, it typically goes through a public hearing due to the public sensitivity surrounding it. Following this, the bill requires the senate’s approval, which can take up to a year,” he pointed out.

“If the Thai government is determined, they might expedite this process […] but the construction of multiple IRs will still take significant time.”

The panel also discussed the projected growth in tourism that IRs could bring to Thailand. A government projection estimates over 50 percent growth in tourism if IRs are established.

The Rajah & Tann Singapore lawyer provided a tempered perspective, noting that “tourism in Thailand is centered around Bangkok and, to a lesser extent, Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai”, and if all five proposed locations for IRs are combined achieving those figures could be possible, but it will depend heavily on supporting infrastructure.

“Currently, Thailand may not be equipped to handle such a surge in tourism,” he warned.

Comparing Thailand’s potential IRs to Singapore’s existing ones, Kok Keng highlighted differences in regulation and scale.

“Singapore has only two IRs, heavily regulated with numerous subsidiary legislations governing casino gaming. Thailand’s larger scale and more laissez-faire approach could attract more visitors but also presents regulatory challenges.”

A competitive tax rate

Thailand racing to open IR before Japan but faces legislative hurdles: Panelists

Jaewoo Kwak, Partner at Lee & Ko, added another layer of complexity, pointing out internal debates within the Thai government.

“The Tourism Department in Thailand has signaled reluctance towards the proposal, possibly due to concerns about sharing tourism revenue with casinos. However, from the government’s perspective, the tax revenue from casinos is highly attractive, with a proposed competitive rate of 17 percent, comparable to Singapore’s,” he noted.

Kwak emphasized the feasibility of the plan, stating that the 17 percent tax rate is highly competitive when compared to Vietnam, Japan, and South Korea, making the proposal attractive for investors.

“If the plan moves forward, it could significantly boost Thailand’s economy and tourism sector,” he posited.

As Thailand navigates the legislative and logistical challenges of developing IRs, the panelists agreed that political will and effective infrastructure development will be crucial, and that with the right support, Thailand could realize its ambitions, positioning itself as a major destination for gaming and tourism in Asia.

During the conference in Macau, other experts showed opposing views over the potential for Thailand to successfully move forward with an effective, realistic, and long-lasting casino industry that will be attractive to top international gaming operators.

Nelson Moura
Nelson Mourahttp://agbrief.com
Editor and reporter with 10 years of experience in Greater China, namely Taiwan and Macau, in printed and online media, with a focus on finance, gaming, politics, crime, business and social issues.

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