Myanmar lawmakers seek permission for casinos in effort to boost tourism

  • State ministers argue legal casinos could bring in visitors
  • Tourism chief calls for strictly regulated legal gambling

Myanmar could be the next Asian nation to legalize casinos, following a growing trend of gambling expansion among its neighbors.

Five state ministers have petitioned Myanmar’s vice president with their proposals to open legal casinos in existing hotel resorts within their respective states, the Myanmar Times reports.

Could Myanmar cash in on casinos, after years of economic stagnation?
Could Myanmar cash in on casinos, after years of economic stagnation?

The group of lawmakers met with the nation’s deputy chief last month, and are still awaiting an official decision from the VP’s office. “The vice president didn’t respond yet, but it may happen later on,” the chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation told reporters.

If approved, Myanmar’s 1986 Gambling Law could be entirely overturned as the country aims to take its own slice of the lucrative gambling tourism market, which especially covets wealthy Asian high rollers.

However, lawmakers and tourism officials warn that any legal casinos must be strictly regulated, and that locals should not be allowed to play at the tourist-only casino resorts.

Group meets to discuss future of gambling in Myanmar

Myanmar’s Vice President U Henry Van Thio agreed to meet state representatives from Shan, Kayin, Mon, Mandalay and Tanintharyi last month to hear their proposals for giving some hotel properties a casino license.

Casino gaming, it was argued, would have a significant impact on tourism revenue. Aside from Thailand, many neighboring nations have already eased restrictions on casino gambling – and have seen a rise in tourism revenue as a result.

Henry Van Thio has a significant interest in policies relating to tourism, acting already as the chairman of the development committee on national tourism. If legal casinos can improve tourist numbers and increase revenues, this will be in the Vice President’s best interests too.

Calls for strict regulation in casinos

Chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation U Yan Win was among the industry experts quoted by state lawmakers at the meeting. Yan Win favors a tightly controlled legalization effort, which would restrict Myanmar natives from gaming and enforce strict conditions on operators.

He sees the potential gaming market coming largely from neighboring nations, including Taiwan, Japan and Thailand. It would be a high end market, notes Yan Win, mainly catering to high rollers and VIP players who bet big on table games like baccarat.

“If they open up casino gambling in hotels, the income from tourists would increase. But they should systematically restrict local people from entering casinos,” the tourism chief told Myanmar Times reporters.

The law would not only give hotel operators the option of applying for a casino license, but it would give legal status to the popular but illegal gaming venues in the Tanintharyi and Shan states. Several casinos already operate here, with little interference from the authorities, and these venues generally attract tourists from Thailand.

If the Gambling Law of 1985 is modified or amended, these could become legal gambling outlets. They could also be made subject to national taxes in accordance with new gambling legislation – which could provide another valuable income stream for national authorities.

Background

The country is known for its recent years controlled by the military, and was formerly known as Burma from its days under British colonial rule. It was also known for its long struggle by many of its people for democratic reforms, which began in around 2010, and famously led by the rights campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.

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