The number of gambling licences granted to casinos in Cambodia last year rose to 150 due to an increase in operators.
Cambodia’s ministry of finance said 2018 saw a 53-per-cent increase in licensed casinos, compared to 2017 when 98 venture were registered.
The deputy director general of the ministry’s financial industry office, Ros Phirun, said the authorities aimed to collect US$56 million for 2018. “We are actively drafting a law to govern casino and gambling businesses, and when it is finalised and ready to be activated, we hope revenue from the sector will be bigger,” Ros Phirun told the media.
He said gambling operators are required to pay a US$40,000 annual licence fee.
Sihanoukville has 88 licensed casinos, resulting in an enormous influx of Chinese firms while Cambodians are barred from entering and betting in the glitzy venues.
One of the side effects of China’s growing presence and investments has been growing crime and instability, Sihanoukville Provincial Governor Yun Min reported to the government in Phnom Penh.
Or Saroeun of the Sihanoukville municipality claimed the gambling trade benefitted the population.
The government spokesman said: “Cambodians are benefiting from the business directly as they can supply food, vegetables, meat and fish to meet the increasing demand from gamblers and investors. People will also indirectly benefit from the growing casino business through economic development resulting from increased government tax revenue.”
More than 1.27 million Chinese tourists visited the country in the first eight months last year, a 72-per-cent increase over the same period in 2017.
Sihanoukville’s dramatic expansion of licensed casinos has mirrored the area’s equally dramatic influx of Chinese investors, developers and labourers.
San Chey from the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability said the gambling boom was problematic.
“I’m afraid that casino businesses will serve as a channel for money laundering and human trafficking, or become a source of social problems,” he argued.
The casino boom was a source of concern for its impact on Cambodians, who are increasingly falling into poverty from gambling, the network said
Father Gianluca Tavola of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Cambodia said: “From a social point of view, casinos worry the church. No one believes that a casino can deliver well-being, social balance and the common good. In my opinion, today it is difficult to assess the consequences of the trend because all this has happened so fast over the past two to three years.
“The city of Sihanoukville is just one big construction site. An invasion is taking place with Chinese nationals and companies scooping up land and businesses. This has forced several local and foreign businesses to sell, cease their activities or move east, to Kampot. In fact, western tourists now prefer the latter.”
Svay Rieng, Cambodia. Picture credit: Flickr