The Finance Ministry yesterday revealed some casinos have abruptly closed ahead of inspections on online and arcade gambling operations across the Kingdom as a ban comes into effect.
Prime Minister Hun Sen in August issued a directive to ban all online and arcade gambling in the Kingdom by the end of this year. He noted some online gambling operations rigged their games and threatened those who are not able to repay gambling debts.
Earlier this month, the Finance Ministry’s financial industry department revealed a drop in the number of licenced casinos from 163 in June to 141. The department yesterday said the number has further decreased to 136 licenced casinos.
The department said 20 to 30 more casinos in the Kingdom ceased operations and decided to move outside of the Kingdom, causing unemployment among casino workers and the departure of gamblers from the country.
Ros Phearun, deputy director-general of the ministry’s financial industry department, yesterday said the ministry predicts 80 percent of the 136 casinos in the Kingdom will shut down.
“We have seen more than 30 casinos shut down and more are going to do so in the near future,” he said. “They are forced to shut down because they are losing income [due to the ban]. We believe that in 2020, some big casinos will shut down, too.”
Mr Phearun said some casinos which were not running online and arcade gambling operations were forced to shut down because the number of gamblers has decreased following the ban.
“Some casinos that did not run online gambling still closed because the number of customers declined,” he said. “They invested a lot, but now get less income. They cannot support the huge number of workers who worked for them. Like it or not, this is because of the influence of the ban on online gambling.”
Lieutenant General Sieng Sen, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-commercial gambling department and the man in charge of upcoming inspections, yesterday offered a different figure when it comes to how many licensed casinos are still operating in the Kingdom, noting there are 91, of which 80 percent have ceased their online and arcade gambling operations.
“From January 1, we will begin checking all casinos in the Kingdom, so they have until December 31 at midnight to close their online gambling operations,” Lt Gen Sen said. “If they are still operating online gambling in their casinos, we will take action against them under the law.”
“There are reports of many casinos whose owners ceased operations and left our country to continue their business in other countries that still allow online gambling,” he added. “Some casinos just temporarily ceased their [online gambling] operations. Our government does not want to stop casinos from operating, we just banned them from running online gambling operations because it has negative impacts. Most of the casinos are in Sihanoukville.”
Lt Gen Sen said police officers will cooperate with the Finance Ministry and local authorities during the inspections to ensure the ban is enforced.
“I hope that this ban will help reduce the number of crimes such as money laundering,” he said.
According to a report by the National Police in August, 250,000 Chinese nationals were living and working in the Kingdom, including 100,000 each in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
Following the ban, tens of thousands of Chinese nationals reportedly left the Kingdom. Images of Chinese nationals leaving the Kingdom through Sihanoukville International Airport and the Thai border near Poipet city were also uploaded on social media sites yesterday.
The Chinese government previously expressed support for Cambodia’s decision to ban all online and arcade gambling operations.
“We believe it will help protect both Cambodian and Chinese people’s interests,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said in August. “It will also strengthen our law enforcement cooperation and friendly relations.”
National Police chief General Neth Savoeun yesterday issued a statement saying no one should interfere in the upcoming inspections.
“Based on information that we have received, some individuals have tried to cheat and lie so they can still run online gambling operations after the deadline,” Gen Savoeun said. “Please…understand that anyone who violates the government’s directive will be held responsible under the law.”
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, yesterday welcomed the government’s move.
“We should know that online gambling is not a good business because it causes problems for people,” Mr Chey said. “Like pawn shops and drug-trafficking, it impacts the lives of young people.”
“It provides little benefit to the nation and casino workers. [Online gambling] is detrimental to our society; it is a disaster for the nation,” he said.
Mr Chey said authorities must not only focus on inspecting casinos in Sihanoukville, but also those along the borders with Thailand and Vietnam.
“Don’t just focus on Sihanoukville, but also Phnom Penh and other provinces along the border,” he said. “Some online gambling operations are hidden in apartments and rented houses, where youths use drugs and pawn their properties.”
“We want to see authorities inspect all casinos no matter big or small,” Mr Chey added.