Gaming is big business in Bavet and it’s easy to see why. “We’re only 75 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City,” says Thomas Kam, gaming director at Titan King Casino.
Opened in November 2008, Titan was the eighth casino to be granted a gaming licence in the small border town. It is also the largest, with 128 gaming tables and 168 hotel rooms.
According to Kam, abut 60 to 65 percent of the casino’s customers come from just across the border, with the remainder stemming from other Asian countries, especially China, Taiwan and Malaysia.
After a slow start due to the worldwide recession, things are picking up.
“Business is growing but slowly,” says Kam. “We are starting to improve.”
While all its customers are foreign nationals, the majority of its 1,200 staff are Cambodian, making Titan the largest employer in the province, according to Kam.
Born in Macao, Kam has spent 36 years in the casino business, making him ideally placed to comment upon the rival attractions of casinos in Bavet and that of, say, NagaWorld in Phnom Penh.
“At NagaWorld they are near tourist attractions like the Royal Palace,” he says. “We invite businessmen to come here, not just tourists.”
Kam prefers to draw a parallel between Bavet and the island of his birth rather than with the Cambodian capital.
“In Bavet there is a lot of area – it is like Macao, how it can grow,” he says. “The whole year Macao is full, one event after another.”
Kam believes that Bavet has the capability to arrange similar events to those in Macao, and that these will improve business at the casino. “After the event where do you go?” he asks. “The casino.”
Although two casinos have closed down recently, Kam does not feel there is a surplus of casinos in town. This is a view not shared by Heng Chamroeun, public affairs manager for Las Vegas Sun Casino, who believes the market is already over-saturated.
“I think that there are too many casinos,” he says. “Two or three years ago we had lots of VIP customers come, but this has decreased since the economic crisis.”
His casino also relies heavily upon customers from just across the border, accounting for some 80 percent of all business.
“If the government does not issue any new licences then all casinos can survive,” he says. “But too many casinos could kill business.”
Heng Chamroeun views the town as having great potential for tourists.
“Bavet should be developed for tourism,” he says. “We should develop an eco-tourist place, entertainments, modern markets and good restaurants.”
“There is nothing to see here,” he says. “It’s very hard to attract tourists.”
Instead Kam sees Bavet’s future as lying with creating more business opportunities.
“We need more investors to come over to build the city, not just one or two casinos waiting for the Vietnamese,” he says. TRANSLATION BY RANN REUY