Walsh, John and Petcharat Lovichakorntikul, “Casino Resorts as Micro-Para-Statal Areas in the GMSR: Connectivity and Economic Development,” paper presented at the international conference on Beyond the State’s Reach: Casino States as Enclaves (Phnom Penh, August, 2015).
Several types of para-statal areas exist in different parts of the Greater Mekong subregion (GMSR). These are areas in which different versions of the rule of law apply than in normal parts of the country. Para-statal areas can be formal in nature, as in the case of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that are used to help propel nations along the trajectory of the Factory Asia paradigm. Other para-statal areas are informal in nature and represent territories where the rule of law is partially or wholly-imposed by non-state actors. These range from areas in Myanmar where insurgent ethnic minority groups have established autonomous zones, to areas in Laos where Chinese capital has been used to create areas of cowboy capitalism, where the rule of law is enforced by the owners of capital, usually in collusion with representatives of the state, who benefit personally as a result. There are no examples of the latter form of para-statal area offering better workpace safety conditions or labour relations more generally. On the contrary, workers are generally subject to exploitative conditions with little guarantee of receiving due reward for their labour and no rights to collective bargaining or freedom of association. This is generally true of the casino resort micro-para-statal areas of the GMSR that are mostly located on the borders of Thailand with Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, as well as special resorts created for Chinese visitors to Vietnam. Casinos offer employment but few good jobs and a significant proportion of those jobs are associated with indecent work. Only croupier work is valued. Most jobs are low-paid, low-skilled service sector jobs with little security or career paths. They are also often associated with drug smuggling and usage, sex work of various categories and money laundering. This does not necessarily mean that the lives of workers in resorts are materially worse than all other workers in formal sector SEZs, as the recent protests by female Cambodian workers in the garment industry SEZs illustrates. However, these are conditions in which workers have historically sought to organize themselves in the name of security. This paper uses mostly secondary data sources to compare what is known of conditions in a range of different para-statal areas across the GMSR, with a particular focus on casino resorts. It is argued that connectivity with surrounding areas can be of considerable importance in determining the nature of conditions experienced by workers and that the different forms of connectivity exist in different combinations in the various para-statal area categories identified. This then has a direct impact on the willingness and ability of workers to provide remittances and to obtain competencies and experiences that can subsequently contribute to local economic and social development.
Keywords: casino resorts, Greater Mekong Subregion, para-statal areas, informal economy, security.