PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The government gave licenses for 10 new casinos in the third quarter of this year, raising their number in Cambodia to 75, an official told Khmer Times yesterday.
Ros Phearun, a deputy director general of the financial industry department at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said most of the 10 new casinos are in the coastal resort of Sihanoukville.
“By the end of the third quarter of the year, we have 75 casinos operating in our country. In the third quarter, we licensed 10 new casinos. Most of them are operating in Preah Sihanouk province where the [gambling] industry is nearly nonexistent,” he said.
Mr. Phearun said most of the new entrants to the gambling industry were interested in online gambling. The government, however, requires online betting to take place within a casino.
The new casinos can survive in Sihanoukville because most of their gamblers are online. “That’s why the casino industry is rising [in Sihanoukville],” he said.
Mr. Phearun said most of the new casinos are owned by Chinese investors. The new casinos are not only increasing the flow of foreign investment o the coastal area but are also spurring the economy and creating jobs, he added.
“Our policy is to attract more investment, but we are also careful for any investment in the gambling industry because it is different from [investments in] other industries,” Mr. Phearun said. “Although gambling is good for investment, the government has a clear policy to govern the industry in order to both increase the national budget and also protect national security,” he explained.
New Law Needed
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay told Khmer Times that he has urged the Ministry of Economy and Finance speed up the drafting of a law on casinos, saying it should be finished as soon as possible in order to manage the industry and enhance tax collection.
“As we keep issuing the new licenses, there will be severe effects on the country,” warned the senior member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“First, we will not get much revenue in the national budget and second it creates disorder in society by allowing local people to gamble while most of owner are foreigners,” he explained.
“They will bring all our money out [of the country],” he said, adding that casinos also allowed money laundering to thrive.
“In my opinion, we should not give any new licenses while we do not have a law to govern the industry. We don’t know how to collect tax [from casinos], so we should wait until we have a law in place [before granting more licenses,” he stressed.
Mr. Phearun disagreed. He said that although the draft law has not been finalized at his ministry, the government had set strict regulation to govern the gambling industry.
“I don’t think giving new licenses is the problem because the government has clearly thought about this,” he said. “First, the government allows the building of casino along the border to create economic activity there. When we establish the casinos on the beach it is also another option to serve tourists,” he explained.
Some 373,321 foreign tourists visited the coastal area over the first half of the year, up 23 per cent from the same period last year, according data from the Ministry of Tourism.
Mr. Chhay said that he is planning to file a request to the National Assembly asking the government to speed up to the draft law on casinos. “In the next three months, if the government does not make any progress [on the draft], I will propose a letter to the National Assembly. We cannot delay any more,” he added.
The National Bank of Cambodia, meanwhile, announced earlier this week that it is making its first attempt to collect accurate data from casinos. It estimates that income generated by casinos from non-residents represents about 40 per cent of total amount spent by foreign visitors last year – about $2 billion. Mr. Phearun said the government had collected $28.8 million in revenue from the gambling industry in the first nine months of this year.