Myanmar’s relation with gambling is definitely fraught. But Parliament is working on it even if it’s not doing so in the conventional sense. Myanmar has chosen to follow in the footsteps of India and perhaps even Japan. But its tale with casinos is slightly different than what we have come to expect from other places where the activity is looked down upon.
Myanmar and the Foreigners Who Win
Myanmar’s Parliament is pushing ahead with a bill that will formally legalize gambling for foreigners only. This is a move that has been applied elsewhere in Asia, including in India, where some states are happy to cater to tourists who love to gamble, but the locals are kept away from the activity which is generally perceived as the source of moral degradation.
And yet, the Lower House of Parliament is now working on the legislation that will effectively work on finding new ways to bring in people who love to gamble to the country. The Public Affairs Management Committee is the entity that is presently working on the bill and which effectively forwarded it to the Parliament where it will have to clear the Lower House before it can continue for further debate.
The bill is not just targeting tourists who love to play slots and other gaming products, though. It’s a wee bit more comprehensive, specifying how it’s the Ministry of Planning and Finance that can operate the state lottery for example. The bill directly addresses the 1986 Gambling Act, which hit the gambling industry in the country hard, forcing people to do what they do in much the rest of Asia – go illegal and operate unlicensed gambling dens.
Casinos – More than a Political Problem
However, illegal gambling activities in Myanmar are often tied to insurgent groups and to actual attacks on physical venues. One such case dates from May when Ta’ang National Liberation Army attacked a casino at the border with China, which was by itself a bizarre decision-making process.
The downsides of clamping down on casinos is quite evident. Some think that even if the law allows foreigners to gamble freely, that will hardly help the problem, which is that locals also want to participate.
Furthermore, with acting insurgents, not many foreigners would be flocking down to Myanmar to explore the local casinos. The country certainly doesn’t have the same pull as does Macau, for example. Still, Myanmar is planning to start building casinos near the borders with Thailand and China, which seems to be the right decision here.
And yet, the age-old adage of ‘location, location, location’ may not prove enough in this case. Myanmar needs to do more to bolster the security and legalize the industry so that the money can be followed and underground gaming dens be brought down.
However, the legalization of the industry shouldn’t be replaced by pursuit of arrests and seized goods acquire through illegal assets, as has been the case elsewhere in Asia. More concentrated and long-term action is required. Is the Low House Bill just the beginning?