Myanmar, formerly Burma, plans to legalize foreigner-only casinos. As reported by English language Burmese outlet Eleven Media, the news came out of the blue on Friday when minister for hotels and tourism, Ohn Maung, was asked in parliament whether the government was opposed to regulating casinos as a means to boost tourism and generate higher tax revenues.
“Although casinos are banned under the current gambling law, the concerned ministry has no objection against them,” he replied. “After the law is revised, they will be allowed.”
Tourism numbers are low in Myanmar, when compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, due to its appalling human rights record. Ruled by a brutal military junta for decades, it now claims to be transitioning to a liberal democracy, part of a series of reforms introduced after elections in 2010.
But many believe the military is paying lip service to democracy, allowing some civil liberties while entrenching itself deeper in government.
Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing
On Tuesday, the United States called on the United Nations to hold the Burmese military accountable for the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
Around 690,000 have been forced to flee their homes in Rakhine state for southern Bangladesh following a government crackdown on Rohingya insurgents that targeted the entire ethnic group. The United Nations believes the government’s actions may amount to genocide.
The US also called on the country’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to “acknowledge these horrific acts that are taking place in her country.” Suu Kyi was a pro-democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent for 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar.
She was released following the 2010 elections and has since risen to a position equivalent to prime minister, but her silence on the Rohingya issue speaks volumes about who’s really pulling the stings in government.
Tourism Pact With China
Nevertheless, Myanmar shares a large border with China to the east and in 2016 recorded almost half a million Chinese visitors. Ohn Maung said recently that Myanmar and China had been collaborating in strategic efforts to strengthen bilateral ties and encourage cross-border tourism.
In January, according to the Myanmar Times, five regional and state chief ministers petitioned the government to allow them to host casino operations in hotels in their respective areas.
Senior officials from Mandalay, Tanintharyi, Shan, Kayin and Mon made the representation to Yan Win, the chair of the Myanmar Tourism Federation.
In May 2015 the Myanmar Times reported that Singapore-based Zochwell Group Pt was about to announce a deal to build a $1.2 billion integrated casino resort on the Mergui Archipelago, although no such deal materialized.