Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated on Saturday that online gambling will be barred from the Kingdom from next year. He stressed that it brought more bad than good to the country’s economy and puts the Kingdom at risk of money laundering, organised crime groups and terrorism.

Speaking when he opened the 8th Sea Festival in Kampot province on Saturday, he expressed his commitment to eliminating gambling altogether.

While some people were concerned that the ban would force Chinese nationals to leave the Kingdom, others expressed concern over the increasing Chinese presence in the country, said the prime minister.

“So what do you really want? To me, if Cambodia’s economy continues to rely on online gambling, Cambodia’s national security will be compromised. We’ll be under the threat of organised crime groups who will come to Cambodia to carry out their activities.

“We’ll also find ourselves in a situation in which Cambodia becomes a haven for money laundering as a result of online gambling,” he stressed.

The prime minister said if online gambling continued and brought with it the presence of criminals and money laundering, Cambodia will lose its big-ticket investments.

If Cambodia is willing to forgo online gambling, the country’s safety will be ensured and good-intentioned investors will be encouraged to stay in the country.

Hun Sen said the world is caught in the throes of money laundering and terrorism financing – something that the Kingdom should not fall into as well.

He said he had received comments about online gambling, some of which claimed that the ban would bring the real estate and construction sector boom to a halt.

“I ask you: Are construction projects in Cambodia for online gambling? If it were only meant to cater to online gambling and the economy depended on it, there is a danger of money laundering.

“We should not allow this. So, in days to come, online gambling will completely disappear,” he said.

In August, Hun Sen issued a circular ordering the relevant ministries to stop issuing licences for online gambling, as well as prohibit the renewal of existing ones – a decision, he said on Saturday, was made after “careful and extensive analysis”.

Gambling only benefits real estate owners, who rent out properties for gambling operations, said Hun Sen. He called on real estate owners to use their properties for other purposes.

Kim Heang, the president of real estate company Keller Williams Cambodia, seconded Hun Sen’s statement, adding that once online gambling is banned, it will only affect the real estate sector in the short-term. Eventually, it will bring greater benefits to Cambodia.

“Firstly, it will prevent money laundering. Secondly, it will prevent anarchy. It is a good decision. We completely agree with the decision to ban online gambling because it is linked to money laundering, extortion and drugs.

“We accept that when it’s banned, there will be short-term effects on hotels, casinos and guesthouses rented out for gambling operations. It will affect staff in the sectors – maybe hundreds or thousands of people – as well as tax collections.

“But I think the income generated from this isn’t much,” said Heang, adding that Cambodia should instead focus on other economic drivers.

“An online gambling economy is like a bubble. It rises for a while before bursting. Countries that have strong economies don’t opt for online gambling.

“We cannot take this small amount of money [from online gambling] at the risk of money laundering, drugs and extortion,” he said.

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