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A man plays poker at a casino in Preah Sihanouk last year
A man plays poker at a casino in Preah Sihanouk last year. Last year the gaming industry in Cambodia generated more than $25 million. Eddie Morton

More casinos on the horizon

Three new casinos are set to open in Cambodia’s southern province of Takeo, aiming to cash in on an influx of Vietnamese gamblers, as the gambling hubs are targeting a mid-April opening, a Ministry of Economy and Finance official said yesterday.

Ros Phearun, deputy director of the ministry’s Finance Industry department, said the casinos will be located along the Vietnamese border in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district in Phnom Den village. He declined to disclose the name of the owners or capital investment, only saying that they were locally owned.

“By the plan, they want to start operating before Khmer New Year,” he said.

Two of these casinos have completed construction and are awaiting their operating licences, as they haven’t complied with all the requirements, whereas the third one hasn’t begun construction as yet, Phearun said.

“We hope they will come complete the requirement very soon as we already did push them recently,” he added.

The border province of Takeo already has two licensed casinos. While it is illegal for Cambodians to gamble in the Kingdom, Vietnamese gamblers from across the border are known to frequent these casinos.

There are no figures available for the numbers of gamers at border casinos, but Vietnam is the largest source of visitors to Cambodia, with 900,000 Vietnamese coming to the Kingdom in 2014, according to data from the Tourism Ministry.

Last year, the gambling industry generated $25 million in tax revenues from 59 casinos, which was an increase of 15 per cent from 2013. According to Phearun, the ministry is in the final stages of drafting a law to manage casinos in the country.

Nguon Meng Tech, director general of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said he welcomed new investment, but not when it comes in the form of gambling.

“It can absorb more labour force. But, at the same time, it has a negative impact more than positive impact to society and increases corruption among officials,” he said. “Frankly speaking, I don’t support to have more casinos open.”

Son Chhay, senior CNRP lawmaker and deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Economics, Finance, Banking and Auditing, said given that the country doesn’t have a law to manage casinos, the government should not be issuing new licences to the gambling industry as it does not benefit the national economy.

“We don’t have the law in place and then we keep issuing new licences that will create problems to manage them. It will also need discussion about the issue because we’ve seen in the past about the drug trafficking, money laundering and corruption,” he said.

Chhay said that government revenues for gambling were too low, and that the industry in Cambodia was largely owned by foreign interests meaning much of the large profits were being sent offshore.

“We shouldn’t encourage an industry that doesn’t benefit to the country like this,” he said.

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