The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Citizens Out of Luck Under Proposed Gambling Law

NAYPYITAW — Myanmar citizens would not be allowed to gamble in the country’s casinos under the proposed 2018 Gambling Law, according to U Kyaw Soe Lin, secretary of the Lower House of Parliament’s Bill Committee.

“Casinos are intended for foreigners only,” the secretary told The Irrawaddy, and would be used mainly to spur tourism and the national economy.

The new legislation would replace the existing 1986 Gambling Law, which was drafted by the Socialist Program Party of Burma.

The 1986 law does not meet the needs of the current administration and the penalties it prescribes are out of date, U Lin Lin Kyaw, a member of the Lower House’s Public Affairs Committee, told Parliament on Thursday.

He said casinos could become a useful tax generator for the government and would be good for Myanmar so long as they could be managed without harming citizens.

The bill did not specify who could or could not gamble at a casino when the government introduced it in Parliament. The Lower House Bill Committee later added a clause stipulating that Myanmar citizens would be banned, U Aung Hlaing Win, a lawmaker representing Yangon’s Mingaladon Township, told The Irrawaddy.

But with the country in the midst of a democratic transition, he said, the government should be encouraging citizens to make their own informed decisions.

“Under the new law, a Myanmar businessman will find it difficult to go inside a casino with his foreign business partners. I don’t want citizens to be restricted unnecessarily. The Union government should be granted authority. If necessary, the union government can restrict gambling by citizens,” he said.

In February, U Aung Hlaing Win submitted a proposal in Parliament urging the government to legalize casinos in Myanmar.

“It is because of casinos that Macau and Hong Kong do not have any foreign debt. While we have a huge deficit, they have large surpluses. The gambling industry has been the main source of income for them,” he said.

The Bill Committee said the Home Affairs Ministry was also drafting other laws related to casinos and lotteries but had yet to submit them to Parliament.

Before submitting the new gambling bill to Parliament, the Public Affairs Committee held several meetings with the Bill Committee, Home Affairs Ministry, General Administration Department, Myanmar Police Force, Planning and Finance Ministry, Internal Revenue Department, Myanmar Investment Commission and Attorney General’s Office.

Although the existing Gambling Law bans casinos, a few, approved by the previous government, still operate on the island resorts of Myeik in Tanintharyi Region catering to tourists. Another casino near the Thai border in Myawaddy Township, Karen State, is reportedly owned by a colonel in a local border guard force.