Chinese Gamblers Prompt Casino Growth in Cambodia

Multiple new casinos spring up in Cambodia in 2018 due to inflow of Chinese gamblers, government statistics show

Cambodia issued 52 casino licenses in 2018, bringing the overall number of licenses granted to 150, local news outlet the Phnom Penh Post reports, citing information by the nation’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The figure for 2018 represents a 50% increase from the number of overall licenses awarded by the end of 2017, it also becomes clear.

The massive rise was attributed to the surge of demand for casino gambling in the Preah Sihanouk province. The increased demand was, in turn, due to an influx of Chinese travelers into the Southeast Asian country.

Preah Sihanouk, a southwestern coastal province, alone is home to 88 casinos, according to Ros Phirun, Deputy Director of the General Department of Financial Industry, the government agency responsible for the regulation of the nation’s casino industry.

It is still unknown how much Cambodia’s gambling venues generated for the government last year, as the Finance Ministry is yet to complete its annual revenue report. Mr. Phirun told local media that the government targeted $56 million last year, but it is yet to be seen whether the target was reached. Casino operators are obligated to pay an annual license fee of $40,000 to run their facilities.

New Law

Mr. Phirun added that the government of Cambodia is drafting a new law for the regulation of the nation’s casino industry and that they hope once it becomes effective, revenue contributions will rise.

Cambodians are barred from gambling at the nation’s casinos. Lawmakers and regulators note that despite the ban, residents reap multiple other direct benefits from the growing number of casinos around Cambodia, as they supply food and other products to the gambling venues. In addition, the government and Cambodians benefit from higher tax revenue due to the increased investment activity in the country.

As mentioned earlier, the Preah Sihanouk province has seen a massive inflow of Chinese tourists in recent years, which has prompted the construction of new casinos and other entertainment facilities. While the increased employment opportunities and land prices, both the result from the flourishing gaming and hospitality industries in the region, have been praised as great benefits for communities, there have also been multiple concerns voiced.

San Chey, Executive Director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, told local media that the growing number of casinos should not be received as entirely good news due to multiple social risk factors involved.

Mr. Chey pointed out that law enforcement might not be strong enough to deal with public order issues arising from Preah Sinahouk international visitors who, under the influence of alcohol, start fights at restaurants and other public places around the province.

Mr. Chey further voiced concerns that casinos could be used for money laundering, human trafficking, and other illicit purposes, or could become a source of multiple social problems. He went on to say that event though Cambodians are officially banned from gambling at local casinos, there are still many of them who lose millions from the practice.

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