Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - VIP treatment continues as Ariston's casino opens



VIP treatment continues as Ariston's casino opens

VIP treatment continues as Ariston's casino opens

P HNOM Penh's glitzy floating casino opened this week, despite the absence of a

gaming law in Cambodia and after the original advice of foreign consultants and

the Ministry of Tourism was ignored.

The May 1 fanfare opening of "Asia's

plushest casino", attended by a host of dignitaries, failed to dampen months of

controversy and criticism.

The casino boat is the first result of a

still-secret contract, said to be worth $1.3 billion, between the Royal

government and Malaysian company Ariston.

The contract followed an

international tender process by the Ministry of Tourism which, critics say, was

ignored by senior government officials who negotiated their own deal with

Ariston.

While the ministry was seeking international tenders to build

and operate a casino on Sihanoukville Naga Island, the Council for the

Development of Cambodia (CDC) was negotiating separately with

Ariston.

Ministry staff, fearing a contract would be imposed upon them,

sped up the tender process to try to find the best tenderer as quickly as

possible, according to a source closely involved.

Consultants from three

foreign firms were appointed to a ministry tender evaluation committee, while a

gaming law to oversee the casino's running was drafted.

Ariston was among

those who bid for the tender which closed last November. But the source said the

ministry evaluation committee's unanimous preference was for Hyatt

International. By then, it was too late. A separate deal - allowing a casino in

Phnom Penh until the Naga Island one was built - had been struck with Ariston by

the CDC, and the boat was already in Phnom Penh.

The first that Minister

of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth knew of the deal, according to another source, was

from a phone call from Transport Minister Ing Kiet - asking him about a request

from CDC Secretary General Chantol Sun to allow the boat mooring

rights.

Six months later the casino - Naga Casino Resorts - opened its

doors despite no gaming law having been passed.

At a press conference

after the opening, Chantol Sun refused to answer how the boat came to be in

Phnom Penh before an official decision on the tenders had been announced. He

acknowledged, under questioning, that the government's "opinion" on who should

get the contract had differed from that of foreign tender

advisers.

Chantol Sun said the government could expect to reap about $12

million a year in taxes from Ariston, but he had no firm figures to support

that.

"It is still very early, and we are unsure what the [casino]

turnover is as yet likely to be," he said.

Ariston president Dr Chen Lip

Keong said he had been assured a gaming law would be introduced soon, and any

other outstanding issues could be sorted out. "We are familiar with local

sensitivities. I know we will work closely together, formulate policies and

guidelines beneficial to everyone."

On the Sihanoukville part of the

contract - which requires Ariston to expand the airport, build a power station

and improve other facilities - he said Ariston had nine months to submit a plan

to the government. "There have been a number of constraints, a lot of technical

difficulties... It is a gestation period of a massive plan."

Critics,

however, say Ariston's contract with the government - which has been withheld

from MPs - should have included detailed plans for Sihanoukville. "They should

have already broken the ground in Sihanoukville," said one source who worked on

the tender process.

He said the secrecy surrounding the deal, and the

lack of a gaming law, offered no guarantee that whatever taxes the casino paid

would not go "straight into the pockets of certain people". Said another critic

who was involved in the tender process: "There seems to be no time schedule.

It's easy to say we will invest $1.3 billion, but when - next

century?"

MP Son Chhay, chairman of a National Assembly committee with

responsibility for tourism, said the committee had received no information about

the contract. He believed the floating casino was aimed at raising money for the

Sihanoukville development; if they didn't make enough, it would not go

ahead.

The Ministry of Tourism said the Royal government welcomed the

floating casino because it would increase state revenue, provide employment and

attract foreign tourists.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from