NGOs working on social issues have expressed support for the government’s crackdown on gambling activities across the country as the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Department raided nearly 30 large-scale gambling operations and arrested over 50 men and women.
The big crackdown came after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered city and provincial governors on September 17 to take effective measures against gambling nationwide as the problem was escalating and causing anarchy in society.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sok Seiha said that the Phnom Penh Municipal Police worked with the district authorities to crack down on 28 cases of gambling in their localities and they arrested 52 people as well as confiscating a large number of slot machines and other gambling related equipment on the night of September 17.
As a result of the crackdown, 25 Vietnamese lottery businesses were shut down and 33 people – including 20 women – were arrested as the authorities confiscated four motorcycles, 20 mobile phones and some other items.
The operations took place in several districts, including Boeung Keng Kang, Kamboul, Toul Kork, Russey Keo and Chroy Changva.
He said that the other three cases were related to online football betting, including two that resulted in the arrest of three people in Chbar Ampov and two in Sen Sok for a total of 16 people arrested.
San Chey, Executive Director of the Cambodian Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he supports these measures because any opening up of gambling in Cambodia is a big social danger that could lead to a large number of gambling addicts who could commit crimes like robberies when they need money to keep playing.
However, he wanted to see the crackdown on gambling come with a clear plan that is equitably designed and doesn’t tolerate lawbreaking by the rich or powerful in any situation.
“We know that there are many officials who are behind most of the lottery gambling and there should be an investigation to bring those behind the illegal gambling schemes to justice to face trial so that their disgraceful actions will bring disgrace upon their names and reputations,” he said.
Chhit Bunthong, director of the Cultural Relations, Education and Tourism Department at the International Relations Institute of Cambodia (IRIC), an institution under the Royal Academy Cambodia, said that it is paramount that the authorities respect the law when carrying out these large scale crackdowns that sweep up many suspects.
“For me, whatever the authorities do, they have to follow all legal procedures. Whenever there are any breaches of the law by those whose job it is to enforce it, the people will not be satisfied,” he said.
In a September 17 audio message, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that he had issued a strict order to crack down on gambling as soon as possible. At the same time, he warned that he would fire any provincial or capital governors, district governors or any police officers who are found to be responsible for illegal gambling or taking bribes and shirking their obligations.
“I understand that advertisements for illegal gambling are not displayed up in the sky or anywhere other than at locations in the provinces, districts, communes and villages. So, there would almost be no need for any national intervention if provincial governors would take responsibility for their territories and let loose their police forces with orders to crack down on all gambling sites,” he said.
He said that the question of whether the issue can be solved or not depends on the local authorities who know where the sites are and know exactly what happens there and who is responsible.
“All that remains is whether they [provincial governors] agree to do it or not. There’s no necessity to justify protecting illegal gambling dens. Even some cafes or noodle shops have hidden gambling going on there and it can make young people and others get addicted to gambling under the pretext of drinking coffee or under the pretext of just eating there,” he said.
“Therefore, there is no need for any intervention at the national level because officials there are working hard on major national issues, while provincial governors, deputy governors and district governors have created additional forces to support their works at their bases,” the prime minister continued.
The prime minister said he could not allow the situation to worsen along with all of the problems caused by “anarchic gambling” because gambling is not real economic growth and it is causing a lot of damage by forcing farmers to sell off cattle and lands when they lose bets, such as on cockfights, which now even available online.
He said that in the past the media had done its job and reported on illegal gambling happening in some villages and communes and even provided the locations, but the authorities simply refused to crack down, especially district police chiefs and police stations in communes.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to tell all gambling den operators that hide under a legitimate business, such as selling noodles and coffee, but have hidden gambling going on inside, you need to close that down and no longer run that illegal gambling if you want to keep business.
“Measures must be taken strictly and these actions should be done without any further interventions from the prime minister or the interior minister,” Hun Sen stressed.
“I think that there are some gambling places that are not unknown to the local authorities, either the police or the military or our administrative officials, but the problem is whether you are willing to do your duty or not. Or are those the real places where you make your money and you owe a duty to them first? This is what we all need to be honest about,” he added.