Cambodia’s Casinos Observing New Online Gambling Ban

According to government officials, Cambodia’s casinos are watching the country’s new online gambling ban.

The Khmer Times quoted official Ros Phearun from the Ministry of Finance on Wednesday saying that all of the 91 casinos in the country that provided online gambling had ceased such operations as of January 1, in compliance with the directive given last August by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Phearun said a joint committee made up of government officials, police and military police had carried out inspections of all 91 casinos since the revocation of the online gambling licence took effect. Such checks will continue in the foreseeable future to ensure that when the media focus changes, no casinos will try to revive their online offering.

Phearun said there were now 118 licenced casinos in Cambodia, which is a significant drop from  when Phearun announced that there were 141 casinos, the day before Christmas. About 70 of those were based in the province of Preah Sihanouk, but Phearun told Reuters by December 31 they were down to 36.

Yov Khemara, director of Preah Sihanouk’s labour department, said that 33 local casinos had suspended their operations following Hun Sen’s August directive and another 22 casinos had shut down completely. Countrywide, about 7k people are thought to have lost their jobs after reports spread about the online gambling ban.

These 7k job losses are pale compared to the 447,676 Chinese nationals claimed by Cambodia’s Department of Immigration to leave the country after the online gambling directive of August. Chinese officials had rejected an exodus claims in September, saying the number of ex-pats fleeing was only about 5k.

Phearun said this week that some of the casinos that were still open were taking a wait-and-see approach to “one or two months to see if they could make earnings” without revenue from online gambling. Phearun has no hope that many of these precarious businesses will make it, saying that the government “believe that more casinos will cease their business.” Or goes underground. Some local activists believe that many online gambling operations will simply move from casinos to rented houses or other places where there is no description. The authorities were also advised not to restrict their inspections to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh, but also to keep a close eye on the country’s special economic zones with Vietnam and Thailand.

The online gambling ban in Cambodia was widely viewed as a favour to China, on whose people most of the online gambling operations in Cambodia relied on customers. China has pushed other Asia-Pacific nations to follow the lead of Cambodia, but so far no country has been willing to go the whole hog.