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Crackdown on online gambling now imminent

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
There are 72 casinos in Sihanoukville, some still operating online gambling. KT/Mai Vireak

The Finance Ministry yesterday revealed a drop in the number of licensed casinos as authorities prepare for a mass inspection of all legal gambling operations across the Kingdom.

On August 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive banning all online and arcade gambling in the Kingdom by the end of this year. He noted that some licenced online gambling operations rigged their games and threatened those who are not able to repay gambling debts.

Ros Phearun, deputy director-general of the ministry’s financial industry department, yesterday said there are currently 141 casinos in the Kingdom, 89 of which still run online and arcade gambling machines.

The figures show a drop in the number of casinos when compared to 163 casinos in June.

“Most of these online and arcade gambling operations are located in Sihanoukville – some casinos there ceased operations themselves,” Mr Phearun said. “There are just a few casinos in Sihanoukville that do not operate online and arcade gambling.”

He said ministry officials next week will collaborate with Interior Ministry and provincial authorities to inspect all 141 casinos.

“We will not wait until January…to take action against online and arcade gambling, we will start to crack down on the night of December 31,” Mr Phearun said. “A joint committee…will inspect each casino and see whether online gambling operations have ceased.”

He added the government previously allowed businesses to operate online and arcade gambling in 2016 but decided to end it this year due to its social consequences, despite impacts on casino and tourism revenues.

Mr Phearun said the government is committed to safeguarding national security and curbing money laundering.

“If we closed online gambling operations, we would have more positives and negatives,” he said. “We are optimistic we will end online gambling because these casinos are well managed by the government. If they do not listen to us, we will take action to revoke their licences.”

Preah Sihanouk provincial Governor Khuoch Chamroeun on Tuesday held a meeting with Sieng Sen, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-commercial gambling department, to discuss the upcoming inspections.

Provincial Hall spokesman Kheang Phearom said there are 72 casinos in Sihanoukville and some of them still operate online and arcade gambling today.

“We have set the deadline for December 31 at midnight,” Mr Phearom said. “We will then start the action in the province.”

“Currently, the authorities are cooperating with the anti-commercial gambling department to inspect and collect data,” he added. “If the casinos want to operate online gambling, we will take action. They are not only faced with licence revocation, but also legal action.”

Mr Phearom said the government does not want to solely depend on gambling revenue.

“Our economic growth does not only depend on online gambling in casinos,” he said. “In Preah Sihanouk, we have other sources of income, such as the Special Economic Zones, airports and seaports.”

San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, yesterday said the government must also pay attention to online gambling being remotely operated.

“I think we should implement two mechanisms: First, we continue to strengthen laws and crack down on online and arcade gambling,” Mr Chey said. “Second, we should encourage our people to join the authorities and report any operation in the country.”

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