New bets on Thai casinos - Sunday 12th of June 2005

THE prospects for Australia's gaming tycoons of new opportunities in Thailand have improved, with the Thai Government pushing for a referendum on legalising casinos.

The moves follow a series of raids on illegal casinos last week, prompting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to call for a debate on the issue.

"We have to ask the country for a mandate," he was quoted in The Bangkok Post as saying. "This is to save the Government from accusations that it fancies gambling."

Mr Shinawatra said a vote on the issue could be held at the next election.

The debate will be closely watched by Kerry Packer's Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd and Victorian gaming giant Tabcorp - both of whom are expected to be among many gaming operators keen on any Thai casino licence.

Thailand has long been mooted as a country likely to legalise gambling following the increasing trend towards more gambling regulation throughout Asia.

PBL is expected to be well positioned for any change as Mr Packer already knows Mr Shinawatra - a popular leader who made his fortune building a telecommunications empire before entering politics.

Federal MP Andrew Robb, previously the Liberal Party's federal director and a consultant to Mr Packer, has previously consulted for Mr Shinawatra's Government.

But a spokesperson for Mr Robb recently denied he had introduced Mr Packer to Mr Shinawatra, saying "they already knew each other".

PBL has an Asian gaming joint venture with Melco International Development, a company chaired by Macau's former gambling monopolist, Stanley Ho, through which they are committed to pursuing further Asian gaming opportunities.

Melco and PBL are bidding for one of the two casinos being developed in Singapore, as is Tabcorp.

Twelve consortiums remain in the running for the two Singapore casinos but Tabcorp chief executive Matthew Slatter recently said he expected that number to soon reduce to seven.

In Thailand, Mr Shinawatra argued that holding a referendum at the same time as an election would save time and money.

But according to The Bangkok Post, Thailand's opposition party disagreed as it said the Government would be able to capitalise on its election popularity to score a favourable casino vote.


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