Mon, Jan 28, 1:31pm by Staff Writer
Cambodia is fast becoming a hot spot of gambling in Asia, with the beach town of Sihanoukville one of a number of towns that are luring wealthy Chinese gamblers.
This coastal capital of Preah Sihanouk province – named after Cambodia’s revered late king – was once a sleepy fishing community before being claimed first by Western backpackers, and then wealthy Russians.
Today it is Chinese investment that is transforming the province into a gambling playground for mainland tourists.
“Some gamblers lose hundreds of dollars in less than 20 minutes,” an employee from a casino told Business News.
Casinos are banned in China, although the gambling mecca of Macau, once dubbed the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’ has special laws allowing a massive gambling trade.
Sihanoukville is becoming a popular alternative, with nearly 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction.
30 per cent of Sihanoukville’s population is now Chinese according to the provincial governor, with population swelling during the past two years.
The Chinese government has invested big time in Cambodia, with the once-impoverished southeast Asian country having billions of dollars flow into its economy.
Preah Sihanouk’s governor said $1 billion has been invested by Chinese government and private businesses into the region between 2016 and 2018.
China’s influence in Cambodia is highlighted by the nexus of Beijing’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ infrastructure plan, that includes a planned highway to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.
Real estate prices in the town have skyrocketed in the past two years, rising from $500 per square metre to five times that for homes close to the sea according to real estate firm CBRE.
The provincial governor describes Chinese money as “a diamond and golden chance for all.”
Cambodia's bid to be 'New Macau' stirs old wounds as Chinese cash in #Sihanoukville#China#Infoblaze #SoutheastAsia #Cambodia #Casino #Gambling
Via https://t.co/gFRroHLdmS https://t.co/XtXIHky94q pic.twitter.com/HEsHxOEFJW
— Infoblaze Cambodia (@InfoblazeKhmer) January 28, 2019
“They bring money to invest because they see our potential,” governor Yun Min said.
A representative of the Spean Chheah community is sceptical about the impact of investment saying: “the huge Chinese investment in Preah Sihanouk has no benefits for the poor.”
“The benefits go only to the wealthy and the powerful,” he said.
On the balance of things, the governor Yun Min disagrees, saying that things have improved for locals thanks to the Chinese imprint.
Income has doubled from $1,700 a year in 2015.
The Interior Ministry last year assigned a taskforce to handle the influx of people and a rise in crimes such as kidnappings, extortion and prostitution.
“These problems exists but after we are done with (the development), it will be clean and we will get a lot more benefits from it,” Yun Min said.
The casino boom in Cambodia was highlighted by a 53 per cent increase in the number of casinos in operation in Cambodia in 2018.
Just 98 casinos existed in the country in 2017, with that figure soaring to nearly 150 in 2018.
In the coastal province of Sihanoukville there are 88 casinos, according to Yahoo.
The Finance Ministry is yet to complete its annual revenue report so it remains unclear how much Cambodia’s gambling venues generates for the government in
Mr Phirun told local media that the government targeted $56 million as its revenue target.
Casino operators in Cambodia are obligated to pay an annual license fee of $40,000 to run their operations.
The Cambodian government is in the early stages of drafting its new gambling legislation that it hopes will further increase its gaming revenue.
As it stands Cambodian citizens are forbidden from gambling t the nation’s casinos.
There are benefits for locals to the casino trade according to Mr Phirun, with the venues being provided with food and other products by local residents.
With the Preah Sihanouk region booming with tourism, employment and land opportunities, the gaming and hospitality industries of the region have benefited.
At least 10 people were wounded during a fire at an 18-floor casino building in the bordertown of Poipet in Cambodia in early January.
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