Despite apprehensions from some sectors, property experts said that Cambodia’s online gambling ban is a sensible move that could benefit the Kingdom’s property sector.
In separate interviews this week, Dr Raymond Choi, chairman of Prestige Homes, and Paul Ellender, manager of Freer Properties (Cambodia), said that while there will be negative effects at first, the Kingdom’s property sector, particularly in Sihanoukville, will eventually benefit from it.
Sihanoukville has one of the fastest-growing property sectors in the Kingdom. That growth has been going full blast in the last few years, fueled by massive Chinese investments and migration, which in turn led to higher supply, demand, and prices. It is understood that many of the Chinese who come to visit or invest in the port city were there mainly because of the thriving online gaming industry.
But Cambodia’s announcement of an online gambling ban in August triggered an exodus of Chinese nationals, leading to fears that the property sector there will be adversely affected or collapse as a result.
“I believe the new policy is good for the long-term development of Sihanoukville because it is not healthy to rely on the online gaming industry to drive the economic growth of Sihanoukville,” Mr Choi stressed.
But at first, according to Mr Choi, the sector will feel the “pain” from lower property demand.
“Short-term downward price adjustment in both property prices and the rental price is inevitable due to the drop in demand for housing need and uncertainties that investors have regarding Sihanoukville,” he noted.
From there, Mr Choi said prices and demand will go back up. “It will start to go back to a rising trend after the current price downward adjustment. How long the adjustment will depend on when the demand and supply reach equilibrium,” he said.
Echoing Mr Choi’s observations, Mr Ellender said online gambling mostly does no good for Cambodia.
“Putting the social aspects of gambling aside for a minute, Cambodia does not benefit from online gambling because it cannot be taxed accurately,” he said.
“Also, to be reliant on gambling as a single industry to generate growth is foolish. It is too fickle to trend, attracts black money and is often associated with gang behaviour and loan sharks,” he added.
Talking about the Sihanoukville property sector, Mr Ellender said his opinion has always been that diversity is good.
“The government now recognises that there is a shortage of accommodation for low- to middle-income earners. Sihanoukville has become too monocultural in its personality,” said Mr Ellender, apparently referring to Chinese dominance in the port city that was once the domain of Western investors and visitors.
There is a widespread belief that with the online gambling ban and the government’s recent decision to refocus on tourism development, diversity will soon return to Sihanoukville.