Cambodia Kowtows to Beijing Pressure: Online Gambling Gone by End of Year, Says Regime

Posted on: September 2, 2019, 03:53h. 

Last updated on: September 2, 2019, 03:57h.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said his country will end all online gambling by the end of this year, bowing to pressure from the Chinese government.

Cambodia online gambling
The thoroughly undemocratic Hun Sen is a former Khmer Rouge commander who rules Cambodia with an iron fist, but he is dependent on Chinese investment and unwilling to strain Beijing’s patience on online gambling. (Image: Pring Samrang/Reuters)

The announcement followed the news last month — significantly, first reported in Chinese state media — that the country’s regulator would cease issuing remote gaming licenses to operators.

Until two months ago, Beijing had remained silent about the online gambling industries of Cambodia and the Philippines, which are prohibited from offering services to their own citizens but have been growing fat by targeting players in China, where gambling is illegal.

But Beijing’s patience finally wore thin in July when its state media attacked Macau super-junket Suncity for allegedly offering online gaming and proxy betting operations based out of the Cambodia and the Philippines, which it said were worth billions of dollars per year.

Beijing Snaps

A negative mention in Chinese state media is often a chilling precursor to punitive action from the Politburo in Beijing, and the article would have put the fear into three of China’s gambling bêtes noires in one fell swoop.

Suncity denied the accusations but issued a grovelling apology to the regional superpower, nevertheless.

Just in case the Philippines didn’t get the message, last month Beijing overtly demanded an end to its online gambling industry, a message that was reportedly reiterated to the country’s President Duterte when he met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Beijing last week.

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s authoritarian government, which consistently ranks among the most corrupt in the world, according to the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, has been handing out gambling licenses like candy in recent years, both land-based and online.

Eager to attract investment from Chinese companies, the government has allowed casino operators to transform the once sleepy fishing town of Sihanoukville into a Chinese casino hub, with some 50 casinos springing up in the past three years and as many as 70 more under construction, according to some reports.

Irrational Pursuits

The Khmer Times recently claimed the government granted land-based 150 gambling licenses in 2018. The regime has been accused of corruption in relation to land deals with foreign investors that have resulted in the forced evictions of thousands of villagers.

Cambodia, like the Philippines, has relaxed visa restrictions on Chinese citizens entering the country, making it easy for Mandarin speakers from China to flock there to work in the land-based and online gambling industries.

Meanwhile, Beijing has discouraged Chinese companies from investing in gaming industries abroad, describing such ventures as “irrational” pursuits, which, “instead of boosting the domestic economy, [have] triggered capital outflows and shook financial security.”

According to The Phnom Penh Post, the Chinese government “expressed support” for Cambodia’s decision to ban online gambling and said it “stands ready to work with Cambodia to take effective measures to deepen law enforcement.”