WITH less than three months until the government closes their doors for good, the
management of Phnom Penh's Holiday Club casino has criticized the government's decision
John Stephens, Managing Director of International Casino Services which manages the
Holiday Club, claims that his company has been kept very much in the dark about the
government's decision to bar casinos from operating within a 200-kilometer radius
of Phnom Penh.
"We've heard a lot of rumors," he said of the government closure order,
"[but] we've never been officially informed."
Explaining that his company is already constructing a new casino in Poipet, well
outside of the new "casino exclusion zone" around Phnom Penh, Stephens
says the anti-casino policy will primarily victimize the employees of his Phnom Penh
"We provide a hell of a payroll. . . five to six times more than other places
in salaries and benefits," he said. "Shutting us down will be a catastrophe
for [employees'] families."
Stephens says that the casino shutdown order will penalize one of the rare success
stories of Phnom Penh's hospitality industry.
"We're 110% full every week," he said of the Holiday International Hotel
within which the Holiday Club is located. "These [foreign guests] are all here
because of the casino. . . and spend their money going out to local restaurants and
Stephens' defense of Phnom Penh's legal casino industry falls on deaf ears at the
Ministry of the Interior (MOI) which issued the casino closure order.
While conceding that Phnom Penh's two legal casinos, the Holiday and the Naga, "pay
good salaries and help the economy", General Khieu Sopheak, Deputy Director
of the Cabinet and Advisor to the MOI, insists the "social costs" of casinos
far outweigh their benefits.
"[Casinos] are flinging the city into a society of violence," he warned.
Sopheak enumerates a near-biblical litany of social ills he attributes directly to
"Robbery, looting, killing, suicides. . . after people play at a casino and
lose, they [feel that they] can do anything they want," he explained. "A
lot of [unsuccessful gamblers] have hanged themselves."
Stephens bristles at the suggestion of a link between legal casino gambling and crime.
"Casinos are not the cause of crime in the city," he said, adding that
in its four years of operations 95% of the Holiday Casino's customers have been foreigners.
That percentage increased to 100% on April 1, when police were posted at the casino's
doors to bar entry to Cambodian customers.
While Stephens refers to the ban on Cambodians from gambling at the casino as "probably
to the detriment of human rights", Holiday's Gaming Manager Paul Jolozides confirmed
that a clause prohibiting the entry of Cambodians to the casino was part of the Holiday
Club's original agreement with the government.
Stephens cautions that banning legal casinos in Phnom Penh will only serve to encourage
the proliferation of illegal gambling operations in the city.
"People are still going to gamble," Stephens warned. "If [the government]
closes this casino down, in no time illegal casinos will open up which the government
will have no control over."
In spite of Sopheak's fierce anti-casino rhetoric, Stephens remains hopeful that
the government might still be dissuaded from carrying through on its pledge to close
both the Holiday and Naga casinos in June.
"We have to point out [to the government] that there are a whole lot of things
they haven't looked at or aren't aware of [regarding casinos]," Stephens said.
"The advantages of keeping us open are considerable."
No dice, says Sopheak at the MOI.
"The casinos will be shut down in June," he insisted.