Cambodia issues 10 new casino licenses to Chinese operators for online gambling

Cambodia approved 10 new casino licenses in the third quarter, with most of the recipients reportedly intending to focus on online gambling operations.

On Thursday, the Khmer Times reported that Cambodia’s government had issued 10 new casino licenses in the three months ending Sept. 30, bringing the country’s total number of licensed gaming venues to 75.

Ros Phearun, deputy director general of the financial industry department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, credited the gambling industry with increasing the flow of foreign investment into Cambodia. Phearun said Chinese investors were backing the majority of the newly licensed casinos.

Most of the new casinos will be built in Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s southwest coast, the country’s main tourist destination. The majority of Cambodia’s existing casinos are clustered near border crossings with Thailand and Vietnam, and Phearun described the casino industry in Sihanoukville province as “nearly nonexistent,” although there are a few small operators, including Queenco Leisure International’s struggling Queenco Casino and Hotel.

Phearun claimed that the Chinese casino investors were primarily interested in developing their online gambling operations. Local residents aren’t permitted to gamble in Cambodian casinos and, unlike the border casinos, Sihanoukville can’t rely on a steady stream of Thai and Vietnamese gamblers, leaving Phearun to conclude that online gambling is “why the casino industry is rising” in Sihanoukville.

Online gambling is officially prohibited in Cambodia but the government allows the practice to take place in casinos, as locals have no way of accessing these facilities. The prospect of officially issuing online gambling licenses is currently being studied as the government drafts its new Casino Law, which aims to make Cambodia a more attractive investment prospect for international casino operators.

Son Chhay, a legislator of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, is urging the government to get on with approving the new law. Chhay said he would file a formal request to speed up the process if the government hasn’t made any progress in the next three months.

Chhay accused the government of acting irresponsibly by doling out new casino licenses, which he claimed would create “disorder in society” by corrupting locals to benefit foreign operators. Chhay claimed politicians “don’t know how to collect tax” from the casino industry so new rules need to be in place before any more licenses are issued.

Phearun disagreed, claiming the government had “a clear policy to govern the industry in order to both increase the national budget and also protect national security. Phearun noted that the government had collected $28.8m in casino taxes in the first nine months of 2015, already higher than the $25m collected in all of 2014.

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