Gambling in Cambodia is booming. The number of casinos increased from 98 in 2017 to more than 150 at the start of 2019. Most of these casinos (88 to be exact) are in the coastal region of Sihanoukville.
The government has been embracing the sector in recent years because it is a significant source of revenue. It offers an alternative in Asia to places like Macau, and it is becoming a more popular gambling destination each year.
Gambling in Cambodia
Gambling by citizens of Cambodia is illegal in the country under the Law on Suppression of Gambling in 1996. Those caught gambling face various types of punishment, including imprisonment for more serious offenses.
Tourists are allowed to gamble at the country’s casinos. Certain types of games, mostly lotteries, are legal for a citizen to take part in. Five national lotteries, for example, are legal.
Slot machines were also legal for citizens to play until 2009. However, there were many issues with gambling debts and problem gambling, so a ban was enacted. Gambling is massive in Asia, so there is a thriving black market for Cambodian citizens.
For many years, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand have banned all forms of gambling. Therefore, the Cambodian government in Cambodia has been looking to take advantage of this by dominating the sector. Many border towns and resort villages now have casinos, and many people cross the borders just to play at these casinos.
Vietnam, taking notice of the great benefits Cambodia is reaping from its expanding gambling sector, has seven casinos under construction for foreign players.
The country is also temporarily lifting the ban on Vietnamese citizens gambling at certain casinos. Vietnam is looking to do something similar to their neighbors in Cambodia and attract foreign investment and subsequently lucrative tax revenues through these expansionary measures.
The massive increase in the number of casinos in Cambodia in 2018 is staggering. Increasing from 98 facilities to 150 in the space of a year is quite remarkable. This is an increase of 52%, and many people are expecting the number to rise even higher in 2019.
Sihanoukville is a popular tourist destination on the coast and is quickly becoming one of the main gambling destinations in Asia. A property boom has been going on in the region in recent years, largely thanks to a lot of investment from Chinese companies in real estate, casinos, and hotels.
Negative side effects
There are a lot of positives in having an expanding casino sector, but there are still some downsides. The levels of instability and crime in the region are rising. There is an impact on local citizens, even though they cannot legally set foot in casinos.
Many are descending into poverty because of their problems with gambling. With the trend accelerating at such a rapid pace, it is hard to truly determine the actual extent of these issues. There are calls for a lot more government money to be used for helping to prevent and treat problem gambling.
What about the benefits?
Of course, the benefits of having a booming casino industry are obvious. Many locals will get jobs working on the construction sites of these new casinos. Some of them will also get jobs working in the casinos themselves.
Local businesses will benefit from the rising numbers of tourists coming to the region to gamble and significant tax revenue goes to the government. The 2018 tax revenue figures haven’t been released yet. However, the forecast for the year was $56m (£44.3m). This is more than twice the 2014 figure, and the amount will no doubt grow handsomely in 2019 following the creation of another 52 casinos.
A lot of the casino licenses are given to those who want to launch an online gambling platform. Particularly, they want to broadcast live action to people in other countries, especially China.