THE partial opening of Ratanakkiri province’s first casino on Friday suggests all is well with Cambodia’s expanding gaming industry.
The latest casino to open on the Vietnamese border puts the Kingdom’s total number of gaming venues close to 30, second only to Macau in the region with 33. Meanwhile, NagaWorld in Phnom Penh announced an 83 percent rise in net profit for the first half of the year.
However, on Cambodia’s main gaming frontier – the Vietnamese border, site of the new Try Pheap Mittapheap Casino Entertainment Resort in Ratanakkiri Province – casino investments look increasingly to be a huge gamble. Winn Casino in Svay Rieng province was forced to close its doors at the end of September due to a drop in custom with officials citing the economic crisis for the closure, but this explanation seems overly simplistic.
Tourist arrivals from Vietnam saw the largest growth of any country to Cambodia in the first eight months of this year at just less than 42 percent on the same period in 2009, government data showed. Meanwhile, during the first six months of 2010, NagaWorld’s revenues increased 7 percent, according to a company report. So although many more people have visited Cambodia, especially from Vietnam, gaming venues on Cambodia’s border with Vietnam are struggling to attract gamblers. That makes the prospects for Ratanakkiri’s new casino less than favourable.
As the first casino in the area, Try Pheap Mittapheap can expect to corner the market but then, with Cambodians not permitted to gamble legally, it will have to rely on an influx of visitors from Vietnam. But the largest threat to Cambodia’s casino industry lies within Vietnam itself. While Cambodia is building $3.5 million casinos in Ratanakkiri Province, Vietnam is developing a number of multibillion-dollar gaming resorts such as the Ho Tram Strip in Vung Tau close to Ho Chi Minh City and a $2 billion development in Lang Son in the Northern Highlands.
At the moment, these developments will only compete for international gamblers as Vietnamese, like Cambodians, are barred from betting in their own country. However, speculation is mounting Vietnam will soon partially legalise gambling for its own citizens.
Reports this year have talked of Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the world’s largest casino company Las Vegas Sands, courting Vietnamese government officials and calling for the legalisation of gambling in Vietnam, a necessary condition, he has said, for his proposed casino resort.
Although Cambodia’s border casinos aim for a lower-spending clientele, the possibility of legalised gambling in Vietnam would surely decimate the industry on the Cambodian side of the border.