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Gaming crackdown queried

Information minister sparks new uncertainty over legal status of online games

CONFUSION surrounds the status of Cambodia’s online gaming centres after Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith was reported as saying that the venues did not involve betting and should not be closed.

Some 300 such centres had been shuttered this year, according to gaming firm VTC Online’s Vice Director Ha Manh Hung, after Prime Minsiter Hun Sen announced a crackdown on gambling.

Earlier this month, Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that authorities consider online gaming a form of gambling and therefore illegal in Cambodia.

But according an online report from Deumampil News, published Monday, Khieu Kanharith said: “The prime minister did not give a wrong order, but the implementation exceeds the order in some places.”

He was reported as saying that Hun Sen had not recommended closing online entertainment services, as video games did not involve betting and had a role in developing modern technology for the younger generation.

But he added that gaming centres near to schools should be shut down.

“Game operators must have a strategy or policy to prevent students from forgetting their studies – for example, allowing them to play for only three hours a day,” he said.

When the Post contacted Khieu Kanharith by phone Monday he said he was unable to talk, as he was in China. A number of Ministry of Information officials also declined to comment.

Uncertainty over the status of internet gaming centres still remains within official circles.

“We still continue to take action on internet cafes that provide computer games until we receive an order from the district police chief,” Phnom Penh’s Toul Svay Prey 1 Police Chief, Chin Sitha, said Monday.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth declined comment on the issue.

Members of the IT industry are also wary of acting until the status of online gaming is certain.

“We want to know the point of view of the government,” said VTC’s Ha Manh Hung Monday.

The Vietnam-based firm said earlier this month that it had postponed its first online game release in the Kingdom following the crackdown, meaning that US$80,000 in advertising spending had been “wasted”.

“Once the situation is more clear, we can start the process of releasing the game. If the situation is still the same, we will just waste our money again,” he said.

Ha Manh Hung said his firm had worked with Vietnamese authorities in the past to encourage players to limit their game time, such as decreasing points scored after three hours of play or after 9pm. He suggested that a meeting with government officials may help solve the confusion.

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