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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Step forward for casino plan

Step forward for casino plan

T HE Royal Government has taken a step forward in its $500 million plan to

develop Sihanoukville as an international tourist destination.

The

Ministry of Tourism announced Australian marketing firm Lewis & Partners

will head a newly-formed consultancy team to prepare for tender the construction

of a casino, international airport and resort complex.

Tender documents

will be released in two months time with the contract being awarded at the end

of the year, said Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth. The tendering will be

supervised by the Ministry in conjunction with the newly-established Cambodian

Investment Board (CIB).

Tourism Under Secretary Sok Chenda Sophea said:

"This is our way to get an airport. We [the government] have no money. This way

it is easier to bring investors to Sihanoukville. When investors know there is

an international airport it will be easier for them to build a

hotel."

The consultancy team helping prepare the tender documents is all

Australian. It includes accountants Arthur Anderson & Co; lawyers Corrs,

Chambers and Westgarth and building consultants Acer Wargon Chapman Group, all

of which have had extensive experience in casinos. Experts from the UNDP &

World Tourism Organization (WTO) are also assisting.

The $500 million

figure is an estimate of what it will cost the eventual winner of the contract

to fulfill the government's requirements.

 

These include the building of the casino, the airport, a convention center

and hotel, a golf course and associated infrastructure.

Koh Pous island,

just 400 meters offshore, has been earmarked as the construction site for the

entire 2,500 hectare project, apart from the airport.

Tourism Minister

Veng Sereyvuth estimated it will take 18-25 months to complete the project,

though it is unclear when construction will begin in earnest.

"The skills

that are available in this country should be exploited to the maximum," said

Sereyvuth.

Khmers have been deprived of casino facilities since the

1960s - and still have a long wait until they can enjoy them again. Sereyvuth

said Cambodian passport holders would not be able to gamble at the new resort,

though he added with a grin: "I actually can go to the casino because I hold a

New Zealand passport." Sereyvuth dodged questions on why Khmers were being

excluded.

Chenda admitted that many important points to be included in

the tender document have yet to be finalized. Casinos have traditionally been

big money spinners for the operators. But the government will have to make the

tender offer sufficiently attractive to tempt companies to make the massive cash

outlay. The deal will also have to compensate the company for being required to

build the airport - estimated at $100 million - and immediately hand it over to

government control. The bid winner will not own the site - it will only be

leased and the government is not putting a penny towards construction costs.

Chenda said the level of government tax on gambling at the casino had

not been decided yet.

Samnang Siv, special assistant to the Ministry of

Tourism, told a conference in Singapore that work on the airport will start next

year and it will be able to handle 800,000 passengers a year. She added that the

2,000-room resort is expected to be finished in 1998.

The companies

helping prepare the tender documents will take 2-3 percent of the final agreed

contract.

A one percent levy on gambling revenue will also be distributed

to worthy causes within the country.

When asked about the security

situation, Sereyvuth said: "We continue to assure 100 percent of the security of

the tourists. This includes Siem Reap and other Cambodian tourist destinations."

The pamphlet adds that the casino will also be using unspecified "state

of the art" security methods to prevent criminal activities.

However one

observer said: "I hate to think what will happen regarding security if you have

rich guys coming in from Taiwan and Hong Kong with several million dollars in

their pockets to gamble."

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