National Police chief Neth Savoeun on Monday repeated the government’s vow to end online gambling operations in the country from Jan 1.
Speaking at a meeting about strengthening law enforcement around gambling operations, Savoeun said there should be no doubt about the seriousness of the government’s commitment.
“Starting from midnight on Dec 31, all types of online gambling will close,” he said. “Cambodia must completely end online gambling.”
In August, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive to ban all online and arcade gambling in the country by the end of the year.
Ros Phearun, deputy director-general of the Finance Ministry’s financial industry department, said on Tuesday that 141 casinos were in operation around the country this year.
“According to forecasts, it will decrease to 94 or 95 casinos in 2020,” Phearun said.
Phearun added that most of the online gambling business was Chinese-run and catered to Chinese clientele.
“So when the government shut down online gambling, the Chinese people who were in the online gambling business lost their work, so they have been going back home,” he said.
Sieng Sen, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-commercial gambling department, said authorities were ready to crack down on any clandestine online gambling operations that attempted to keep going.
“If there is anyone running online gambling secretly, then when we find it, we will take action against them under the law,” Sen said, adding that Cambodian and Chinese authorities would be working closely together. “In the past, it was mostly Chinese and Taiwanese people who operated online gambling.”
Some 250,000 Chinese nationals are living and working in the country, including about 100,000 each in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, according to a recent National Police report.
In August, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said China highly appreciates Cambodia’s decision to ban online gambling.
“We believe it will help protect both Cambodian and Chinese people’s interests. It will also strengthen our law enforcement cooperation and friendly relations,” Geng said, according to Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson said during press conference in August.
“China stands ready to work with Cambodia to take effective measures to deepen law enforcement and security cooperation to the benefit of our peoples.”
Meanwhile, in Preah Sihanouk province, which saw the biggest boom in Chinese-led online gambling operations, Kheang Phearum, spokesman for the provincial administration, said the ban on online gambling should help improve security and prevent money laundering and other crimes.
Although workers would be affected by the casinos’ closures, the province had other economic attractions, he said.
“We have potential in many areas, such as the tourism sector, deep-sea port and nine special economic zones,” Phearum said.
Five of the special economic zones were already open, and they were currently facing a shortage of workers, he said.
Ly Sreysros, a social analyst, said the shutting down of online gambling would be good for the country, but the government should examine how and why it allowed it to proliferate in the first place.
The government should pay attention to the issue of risk, and whether the influx of Chinese casinos had exposed Cambodians to a volatile business, Sreysros said.
“Some people took out bank loans to buy cars to rent to Chinese people at a high price, and some people bought land at a high cost to rent to Chinese people,” she said.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, added that the gambling itself could become a social ill for Cambodian people.
“There is social destruction that can be caused by online gambling. It leads to drug crimes and other crimes in society,” Chey said.