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Pailin casino ready to roll

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BRAVE NEW WORLD

Vietnamese electricians brave former KR territory to put the final touches on

Pailin's new casino.

PAILIN - The unthinkable just one year ago will soon happen in this city infamous

for strident militancy and intolerance toward vice: the nearly-complete Caesar International

Casino will open its doors within the next month.

The building will be the largest commercial establishment in the city, where owning

property was once considered theft and carrying a deck of cards was grounds for re-education.

Foreign ownership in the venture is unclear, but the Cambodian partner is MSP Development,

owned by Koh Meng Sreng who is proprietor of the Sharaton Hotel in Phnom Penh and

the son of Cambodia Chamber of Commerce president Teng Bunma.

MSP also operates the duty free concession in Pailin and another casino on the Thai

border 15km west of the city, which draws hundreds across the frontier each day.

There are already 18 gaming tables and 36 security cameras in the new building. Another

14 tables will come from the open-air casino at the border, which is scheduled to

close when the new venue opens.

Meng Sreng and Pailin Governor Ee Chhean declined to comment after they met here

July 12.

MSP representatives, who declined to be named, say that their company is banking

on Thais making the journey from the border, so they plan to repair the road.

Security along the route has not been as good as in the past. Two people - one

of them a Pailin municipal official - were killed last month in a daylight hold-up.

"When the casino opens, we will provide armed escorts for the Thais," said

Pailin deputy police commissioner Bou Sarin.

It is unclear whether the casino has received official sanction from the government.

Sarin says that he is not familiar with the details, but as a policeman he is familiar

with the law.

"The casino must be approved by Phnom Penh," he said. "We are not

an autonomous zone."

Interior Minister Sar Kheng visited Pailin on July 14, distributing 87 tonnes of

government rice. Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that the delegation did not

visit the casino or speak about it.

"Issuing casino licenses is not under the Ministry of Interior," he explained.

"It is up to the government to decide."

Dealers, cashiers and restaurant staff were recruited from a nondescript office across

the street from Phnom Penh's Sharaton Hotel. The promise of salaries of between $180

and $300 per month drew scores of applicants willing to brave living in the former

guerrilla stronghold.

The bravest - or craziest - workers of all are the Vietnamese crew brought in to

complete the carpentry, electrical work and plumbing. The seven men tend to keep

to themselves, but report no overt intimidation despite widespread anti-Vietnamese

sentiment.

"We are happy to be working here, but we look forward to finishing the job,"

said an electrician who declined to be named.

In all, MSP Development plans to employ 60 people in the casino. The company operating

the adjoining restaurant has taken on an additional 30.

"We didn't want to get involved with the restaurant because we didn't want any

problems with customers running up bills," said the MSP source. "F&B

[food and beverage] is a completely separate operation."

While he says that Thais will constitute the bulk of the clientele, Khmer nationals

will not be barred from entering. "What can we say?" he asks. "If

the people around here with money want to come in, we will welcome them."

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