It’s no secret that Asia is quickly developing one of the most competitive gambling markets in the world. A number of Asian countries are beginning to revamp their laws on gambling in an attempt to generate revenue. Could Cambodia become Asia’s biggest gambling destination in the near future?
This small country in Southeast Asia has been working to become a major gambling hotspot for the past several years. Their casino industry is growing quickly and officials in the government here are reporting some impressive revenue gains. It may not be long before Cambodia is seen as the next Macau.
For many years Cambodia didn’t have any official gambling laws set in place. The country was forced to endure a brutal genocide during the 1970s and has been working to recover ever since. In 1996, the government passed the Law on Suppression of Gambling that outlawed all forms of gambling by citizens in Cambodia.
Despite laws against it, gambling has been an important part of Cambodian culture for decades. The government is known to turn a blind eye to certain gambling activities that take place with regards to sporting events and cockfighting.
Government officials here saw the potential to generate revenue from foreigners gambling, and in 1994 granted their first casino license to NagaWorld. The industry continued to grow, albeit slowly, for the next few decades. In 2018, Cambodia began truly investing in their gambling industry.
The law against gambling here only applies to Cambodians. Foreigners with a passport from a different country are free to gamble in the casinos now spread around the country. From afar, it looks like this country could become Asia’s biggest gambling destination. With Chinese investment that may come sooner than expected.
Last year, the government granted more than 50 licenses for casinos to operate inside Cambodia. The majority of these casinos are opening in the seaside resort town of Sihanoukville. Long-considered a budget destination, this area is quickly becoming an enclave for Chinese investment.
The Guardian reported that Chinese citizens could make up to 20% of the town’s population. In reality, China’s investment in this town goes deeper than just gambling. The port here plays an important role in the Belt and Road Initiative that China unveiled in 2013.
There’s no doubt that China is putting a substantial amount of money into boosting the casino industry in Cambodia. More than 50 Chinese-run casinos are now operating in Sihanoukville. According to officials, more than $1 billion has been invested by China, with more set to come in over the next several years.
China’s increased presence isn’t pleasing everyone. Many Cambodians here are losing out on business that’s going into Chinese hands, and land prices have increased dramatically over the past two years. Gianluca Tavola, superior delegate of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Cambodia has been vocal about his opposition to the gambling industry growing in Cambodia.
“The city of Sihanoukville is just one big construction site. An invasion is taking place with Chinese nationals and companies scooping up land and businesses. This has forced several local and foreign businesses to sell, cease their activities or move east, to Kampot. In fact, Western tourists now prefer the latter, boosting local resorts.”
On the other hand, some locals are benefiting massively. Cambodians are said to earn more than three times the pay on Chinese job sites that they would have on local projects. Landlords here are able to charge significantly more to the foreigners moving into the area, as well.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Cambodia has not released an exact number on the revenue they earn through the gambling industry here. One report claimed that they earned $22 million in 2013. Last year, Deputy Director of the General Department of Financial Industry Ros Phirun stated that the government was expected to earn $56 million.
That’s a substantial increase in money earned over just five years. For that reason, it makes sense that the government is pushing so much into the gambling industry here. Phirun has told the media that government revenue from gambling will “indirectly benefit” Cambodians. Whether or not that’s a reality is up for debate.
As more casinos become available here, so will improved hotels and entertainment options. The entire industry here is obviously catering to foreigners. Chinese citizens, in particular, are expected to be the main source of revenue.
Gambling is banned throughout nearly all of China. Macau is currently thought to be Asia’s biggest gambling destination, yet the Philippines is quickly catching up.
Even Japan, who have been firmly against gambling legislation for decades, have recently begun allowing casinos to be operating inside four different cities.
Cambodia wants their piece of the pie too.
Online gambling was included in the Law on Suppression of Gambling of 1996. In recent years the government has begun allowing land-based casinos licensed by the government to offer their services online.
The online gambling sites licensed here are then free to promote their services to people in other countries. It’s a common tactic in the industry that many sites are now taking advantage of. Since 2014, the government has promised to once again revamp their gambling laws to increase regulation even more in the online sector. As of now, no progress has been made.
Locals and foreigners here that operate their own unlicensed gambling sites are in danger of being arrested.
With the increase in casino investments, updated Internet gaming laws may be just around the corner. For now, many people in this country choose to make wagers through online gambling sites based in Europe.
The writing is on the wall here.
With the massive backing from Chinese investors, this country may soon become Asia’s biggest gambling destination.
There is a debate on whether or not that will ultimately benefit the country. It’s easy to see the potential upside when you look at Macau and the huge revenue earnings in the Philippines. On the other hand, it’s not entirely clear what effect a massive increase in gambling operations will have on the general public.
As gambling becomes more popular, we may even see the government begin allowing locals to freely visit the casinos popping up around the country.
In just two years, a small backpacker resort town in Cambodia has transformed into a burgeoning Southeast Asian gambling spot. In another two years, we may begin seeing a huge number of foreigners flock to this country specifically to gamble. The effects of this all will show itself with time.
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