Myanmar Government Holds Talks to Legalize Casinos

Myanmar could soon legalize foreigners-only casinos to boost its tourism industry and create new sources for tax revenue, the country’s Union Minister for Hotels and Tourism, Ohn Maung, confirmed on Friday.

The country’s Gambling Law was adopted in 1986 and under it the operation of casino venues has been illegal. Local media reported late last year that officials for Myanmar’s states and regions as well as representatives from the Southeast Asian country’s tourism and hospitality industries have been discussing the legalization of gaming facilities at hotels in a bid to attract more tourists from high-end Asian-Pacific markets.

As mentioned above, if and when legalized, the casinos will only admit foreign patrons, and no locals will be allowed to gamble at the properties.

Myanmar’s tourism industry has grown exponentially since 2010. More and more international tourists have been flocking to a country with rich culture and history that had previously been less hospitable and welcoming to foreigners.

According to information from the country’s Tourism Ministry, the number of international visitors has risen from around 300,000 in 2010 to 4.68 million in 2015. Myanmar expects that number to increase to more than 7.5 million foreign tourists by 2020.

Here it is important to note that casinos will not be built as standalone properties, but will be added to existing hotels across the country. In addition to bringing more tourists to Myanmar, the gambling venues are seen as new sources for much-needed tax revenue. Myanmar MPs pointed out during a Friday meeting that among other things the country has a huge foreign debt to pay and proceeds from casinos could help in that endeavor.

Casino Expansion across the Asia-Pacific region

Following suit from Macau which has become the world’s largest gambling hub by drawing wealthy Chinese tourists to its casino floors, a number of other countries in the region have undertaken expansion of their gaming industries and have already begun capitalizing on their efforts.

The pattern has been very similar – the countries have opened massive integrated resorts with services beyond gambling to attract greater attention and to cater to the non-gambling tastes of both gambling and non-gambling visitors.

The Philippines and South Korea are in the midst of big expansion of their integrated resort product; Singapore opened two such properties back in 2010 and it can be said that both of them have been more or less thriving over the past several years; Japan legalized casino gambling in December 2016 and is hoped to open its first casino resorts sometime in the early 2020s.

All these countries as well as several others in the region are targeting the same tourist groups – high roller casino patrons, mostly from Mainland China and recreational casino players and their families who would mostly be attracted by the non-gambling services available on site.

According to information from Myanmar’s Tourism Ministry, the number of visitors from China, Japan, and South Korea increased 20% during the first half of 2017. In other words, the country has already been drawing interest among wealthy Asian travelers and a well-developed casino product could help it grow and retain that interest.

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