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Cambodia's police call for casino crackdown

Cambodia's police call for casino crackdown

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Police officials meet with casino operators yesterday in Phnom Penh to discuss crime and security issues at casinos. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia's casino owners need to up the ante on security, the owners of each of the Kingdom’s 61 operating gaming venues were told yesterday at a Phnom Penh meeting called by national police authorities.

Lieutenant General Sok Phal, deputy national police commissioner, said that in recent months, national police have observed an increasing amount of criminal activity in the Kingdom’s casino towns.

“So far, the General Secretariat of National Police Commissioner has observed that there are many criminal offences or other illegal activities happening in casinos across the country. Besides this, some foreigners or criminals have been using the casino as a place to commit human trafficking, kidnapping for extortion, illegal detention or drug trafficking,” Phal said yesterday.

He said the commissariat had called the meeting – the first of its kind – based on a recommendation made by Prime Minister Hun Sen during his recent five-hour-long speech, in which he singled out casinos dotting the border as a way of preserving Cambodia’s territorial integrity.

Rampant criminal activity in and around casinos is having a detrimental effect on the security, safety and public order of the country, according to Phal.

“Especially, it has also affected Cambodia’s reputation while it is now the chair country of ASEAN,” he said.

The Post has previously reported on the “cheater’s justice” rumoured to be prevalent in the Kingdom’s notorious border casinos.

Reports of unexplained murders, kidnapping and extortion, disappearances, beatings, torture and theft occasionally surface as police files. However, these official cases are just a small blind compared to the bigger stakes being played for behind closed doors, police said yesterday.

“To combat and prevent more criminal offences happening in casinos, we would like to appeal to all casino owners to work closely with police, and report … any time when there is a crime committed in their casino in the future,” Phal said.

“We would also like to encourage all casino owners to strictly obey Cambodian laws, and immediately stop Cambodian citizens from entering and gambling in their casinos,” he said speaking of Cambodia’s strict, if haphazardly enforced, laws against locals gambling.

Major General Chhay Sinarith, chief of the Ministry of Interior’s Internal Security Police Department, said criminal acts were occurring in almost Cambodian casinos.

“The reason why there are still so many illegal acts happening in casinos is because the casino owners have not co-operated well with police,” Sinarith said.

“On the other hand, they have also not established proper infrastructure to control the gamblers,” he said, adding that even entries and exits to casinos are not being guarded properly.

In the first eight months of this year, the Internal Security Police Department recorded seven criminal cases occurring in casinos, resulting in the arrest of 14 people in Phnom Penh and Svay Rieng and Banteay Meachey provinces. However, these cases only represent a small sample of the true extent of criminal enterprise, he said.

Sinarith said that a draft Law on Casino Control is with the Council of Ministers for review before being sent to the National Assembly for debate. The law would establish severe penalties on casino owners who failed to uphold the law in their casinos.

However, Ben Lee, managing partner of Macau-based casino consultancy IGamiX, told the Post yesterday said that increased vigilance among casino owners was not necessarily the answer.

“I think the problem is the crimes don’t occur within the casino, they occur outside of the casino, and once they are outside of the casino, there isn’t a lot [casino owners] can do to control that,” Lee said. “It appears the police are trying to pass responsibility back to the casino operators.

“My impression is that lot of the crime is led by lower-level loan sharks and there’s not much you can do about that,” he said. “The increasing criminal activity is most likely related to increased competition between junket operators, with Bavet being a major flashpoint because of the cutthroat competition.”

Lee stressed that most of the criminal activity was occurring in casinos along the Vietnamese border.

“The Thais have pretty much got [casino crime] under control, and they’ve been at the game for a long time. The crime is mostly about kidnappings on the Vietnamese border and most of the crime is in Bavet versus Poipet,” Lee said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea at [email protected]
Rachel Will at [email protected]

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