Cambodia granted 52 licences to casinos last year, bringing the total awarded to 150 at the end of 2018, thanks largely to a surge in gambling businesses in the Kingdom’s Preah Sihanouk province.
Figures from the Ministry of Economy and Finance said that there were 53 per cent more licensed casinos at the end of last year compared to the end of 2017 when there were just 98.
Ros Phirun, the deputy director-general of the ministry’s General Department of Financial Industry – the gambling business regulator in the Kingdom – said there are 88 casinos in the coastal province alone.
Phirun could not detail revenue collected from the casino industry last year, saying the ministry is collecting data and preparing a report.
“We have not finalised it [the report] yet, but we targeted the collection of $56 million this year ,” he said, adding that casino operators must pay an annual licence fee of $40,000.
“We are actively drafting the law to govern casino and gambling businesses, and when it is finalised and ready to be activated we hope revenue from the sector will be bigger.”
Sihanoukville is undergoing a massive transformation. A flood of Chinese tourists and investors has begun to change the landscape by setting up everything from casinos to towering luxury resorts, as well as restaurants, street stalls and shops.
Noting that casino investors have come from various countries, Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesman Or Saroeun agreed that the huge increase in Sihanoukville’s casinos could be linked to the inflow of Chinese travellers and investments.
He said Cambodians are barred from betting in casinos and, if the law is fully enforced, the growing number of casinos will provide a positive impact for local people.
“Cambodian people are benefiting from the business directly as they can supply food, vegetables, meat and fish to meet the increasing demand from gamblers and investors."
“People will also indirectly benefit from the growing casino business through economic development resulting from increased government tax revenue,” he said.
However, despite the inflow of casino investment in Preah Sihanouk offering some positive impact, such as an increase in land prices and employment opportunities, more casinos also means there are increasingly negative aspects.
Among many criticisms are concerns for public order, with some foreigners getting drunk and fighting each other in restaurants and public places.
Affiliated Network for Social Accountability executive director San Chey said the increasing number of casinos should not be welcome news, as it represents a worrying trend of social risk factors.
Of the increasing number of casinos in Preah Sihanouk province, Chey said there are many negative impacts due to the rising number of gamblers.
If law enforcement is not strong enough, he said, the social impact of the increasing number of casino businesses would be a cause for concern.
“I’m afraid that casino businesses will serve as a channel for money laundering and human trafficking, or become a source of social problems,” he said.
He said that even though local people are not allowed to bet in casinos, there are many reports of Cambodians losing money through gambling in casinos.
“The gambling business is not all good for us. The increasing number of casinos should be a worrying trend for the country. I don’t believe yet that the tax revenue from the casino businesses has been contributing to a solution of the issue.”