NagaWorld to reopen in Cambodia following virus closure

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Cambodian casino operator NagaCorp boasts big profits

Cambodia’s largest casino operator plans to partially reopen its flagship Phnom Penh gaming venue today following its three-month COVID-19 shutdown.

Calvin Ayre reports NagaCorp has decided, in agreement with Cambodia’s Ministry of Health, to reopen the company’s VIP table game and pokie machine elements at its NagaWorld casino.

Mass market gaming operations will reopen at an unspecified later date.

NagaCorp claims the agreement was signed with the government on June 30, four days prior to the government officially announcing its decision to permit the country’s casino to reopen.

The government ordered all casinos to close on April 1 to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

NagaWorld’s restart was subject to the Ministry approving certain health and safety measures, which reportedly occurred following a physical inspection of the casino on July 4.

Pokies capacity will be reduced to 50 per cent, while gaming tables will be limited to three customers apiece – effectively 43 per cent capacity and no ‘standing’ bets will be permitted.

The casino’s food and beverage outlets have been given the all clear to operate at 50 per cent capacity, but the buffet remains off limits.

Casino guests will be subject to temperature checks and must wear masks, while the property has also established five “isolation rooms” in case any guests display signs of possible COVID-19 infection.

Cambodia’s government has yet to authorise any similar reopenings for the dozens of casinos that populate the border areas such as Bavet and Poipet, or for any gaming venues in Sihanoukville.

A senior member of the Ministry of Economy and Finance told the Phnom Penh Post that “no other casino has submitted a letter asking to reopen because their owners have yet to prepare their establishments for it.”

NagaCorp’s official statement said the government was taking a “step-by-step approach” to restarting its casino industry and that NagaWorld’s reopening “shall serve as a template for application for reopening of business by other casinos, if there is any request for permission to reopen.”

Chen growing gambling in Cambodia

Despite the coronavirus outbreak taking a toll on gaming, Chen Lip Keong is trying his luck in Russia.

His NagaCorp company is building a $300 million casino hotel outside Vladivostok, due to open in 2021.

“I like the entrepreneurial spirit behind the development,” Chen told Forbes in March.

Booming growth at his Cambodian casino complex helped push Chen’s net worth up six per cent to $5.3 billion, now at number four on Forbes’ list.

NagaCorp’s share price has nearly doubled since November 2017, when the Naga2 extension opened in Phnom Penh.

Chen, 72, has used the monopoly licence he won in 1994 to ride Cambodia’s economic reemergence from decades of war and more recently, a wave of investment and tourism from China into Cambodia.

In 2006, NagaCorp became the first casino operator and the first Cambodia-based company – to list in Hong Kong.

It now has annual revenue of almost $1.8 billion, up 19 per cent last year and a market capitalisation of HK$48 billion (US$6.2 billion).

A former doctor, Chen got a sweet deal in 1994: a 70-year licence that includes a gaming monopoly in Phnom Penh and the surrounding 200 kilometres that was recently extended in 2045, and special tax breaks.

“Dr Chen was in the right place at the right time,” says Michael Zhu, senior vice president at US gaming consultancy The Innovation Group.

From his first casino on a river barge, Chen built NagaWorld into a major resort, becoming a billionaire.

He then invested $369 million to build Naga2.

Now he’s building the $3.5 billion Naga3, slated to open in 2025, with 3500 rooms plus convention and entertainment facilities.

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