BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand's new prime minister promised Tuesday to build the kingdom's first casinos, which he said would bring tourist dollars into a country where gambling is currently illegal.
Samak Sundaravej said he planned to build five casinos open to both foreign holidaymakers and Thai citizens in tourist hotspots Phuket, Pattaya, Khon Kaen, Hat Yai and Chiang Mai.
"Thais who want to gamble can gamble, and police can do other jobs instead of cracking down on illegal gambling dens," Samak told reporters.
Tourists will be allowed to try their luck at the tables for free, Samak said, but Thai citizens would have to pay a 100,000 baht (3,175 dollars) entrance fee.
"The entrance fee will go to charity," said Samak, who was approved as prime minister earlier this year after his party won December elections.
He did not make clear whether the hefty sum would be a one-off membership fee.
Gambling is illegal in Thailand -- a Buddhist country -- but Thais flock to neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar where casinos dot the border.
Under-the-table wagers are also placed on sports in this football-mad country, with one economic research centre estimating that Thais bet nearly one billion dollars on the 2006 World Cup.
Samak insisted that casinos were not bad for Thailand, and said other countries in Southeast Asia were building them.
Singapore is due to open its first casinos in 2010, but will bar almost 30,000 people including bankrupts from entering premises in an effort to curb associated social ills.