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Malaysian firm wagers on Sihanoukville's potential

Casino chips are displayed at the Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau on May 20, 2015. AFP
Casino chips are displayed at the Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau on May 20, 2015. AFP

Malaysian firm wagers on Sihanoukville's potential

An obscure Malaysian company has obtained approval from Cambodia’s Council of Ministers to develop hotels and casinos in Sihanoukville, with an online promotional video claiming the firm will transform the coastal city into the “Macau of Southeast Asia.”

Salient Ventures, the locally registered arm of Malaysian company SV International, which itself was incorporated only last December, announced in a recent promotional video that it was “bulk acquiring every potential development lot” in Sihanoukville’s port area and was “purchasing existing hotels for renovation and equipping them with gaming licences”.

The firm says its goal is to expand its presence across the coastal city and build a “casino city” modelled on Macau, the biggest gambling hub in Asia.

Apart from running casinos, the government approval issued March 1 allows the firm to operate online gaming platforms, nightclubs, karaoke bars, massage parlours and even dog racing.

SV International could not be reached for comment. Its local office on Koh Pich in Phnom Penh is still under construction, while calls to its headquarters in Malaysia yesterday were not returned.

Ly Koung, owner of the Majestic Hotel on Victory Hill in Sihanoukville, which runs a licensed casino, confirmed that Salient Ventures plans to invest in the coastal city.

He said his hotel has struck a partnership deal with the new firm to bring tourists from Malaysia and Singapore to their casino – though he remains cautious in assessing the firm’s ability to follow through on its ambitious plans.

Koung said Salient Ventures has plans to bring droves of foreign visitors to the city, and is looking to partner with multiple casinos across the city.

“Based on their plans, they want to make Sihanoukville into another Macau,” he said.

Em Som An, a secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, who presided over the investment licensing ceremony for Salient Ventures last week, said he was unaware of the details of the Malaysian firm’s plans.

“I only know that the government has given them policy approval to run casinos, and that they have a building in Sihanoukville,” he said.

“Normally, investors claim to have big projects, but whether it is possible or not – we do not know much,” he added.

While SV International claims to already have one gaming licence in Sihanoukville and be in the process of acquiring more, a copy of the existing licence posted on the company’s website is for a casino in the northwestern frontier town of Poipet.

Ros Phirun, a spokesman for the Ministry of Economics and Finance, said the group had been granted government approval to operate casinos in Sihanoukville, but had not yet submitted a licence application for a casino in the city.

“All the relevant documents have not been submitted to the ministry, so I do not have details of their plans or investments,” he said.

Around 15 brick-and-mortar casinos currently operate in Sihanoukville, many with online gaming platforms that cater to Chinese punters looking to circumvent Mainland China’s ban on gambling.

The sector, however, was shaken up last October when authorities arrested 168 Chinese nationals accused of using an internet-based telephone system to extort money from victims back in China.

Many of those arrested were working in Sihanoukville casinos, which caused Chinese investors, workers and tourists fearing a further crackdown to flee the coastal city, denting its growing gambling sector.

Phirun said that while there was a lull in Chinese visitors coming to Sihanoukville, they were starting to trickle in again.

“It was a bit quiet for Chinese tourists in Sihanoukville [after the crackdown,] but now they are coming back,” he said.

Phirun added that given the “mature” nature of Cambodia’s casino sector, investors could find value in investing in the coastal city, and that SV International was looking to lift the sector to international standards.

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