Cambodia’s Initiative to Improve Casino Management Challenged by US Expert

Posted on: October 7, 2020, 07:06h. 

Last updated on: October 8, 2020, 08:12h.

Cambodia’s new gaming legislation, which aims to provide more regulation and curb abuses, may sound good. But a US-based expert questions how much benefit it will provide.

Cambodia Minister of Economy and Finance
Cambodia’s Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth says a new bill will encourage investment into casinos. (Image; Reuters)

The National Assembly approved the bill this week by 114 out of 117 votes, Inside Asian Gaming reported. The king of Cambodia is expected to sign it into law. The new law has 12 chapters and 97 articles, the Khmer Times, a Cambodian-based publication, reported.

It is designed to encourage economic growth, promote tourism, add jobs, generate more revenue, and maintain security, Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit, was quoted by Inside Asian Gaming.

The bill will require minimum investments for a new casino, set up gambling zones, monitor casinos, and put in controls to curb money laundering and any financing of terrorism. It also aims to encourage investment into casinos by having globally competitive regulations, Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth said.

On the surface, it sounds great, it’s all very much needed, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with Cambodia being on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force on money laundering (FATF),” Sophal Ear, a professor of diplomacy and world affairs at California’s Occidental College, told

“Clearly, something had to be done to bring Cambodia — at least from a regulatory standpoint — into compliance,” Ear added. “But, as with everything in Cambodia, the devil is in the details, and Cambodia has no compunction about passing a law and totally ignoring it when convenient.”

He further explains, “There is no relationship between what the law says and reality…. At least in the short to medium term, I don’t think there will be much change — people [allegedly] paid their bribes already, they’re grandfathered,” Ear added.

Legislation Not Enacted Until 193 Casinos Given Licenses

Ear points out that the casino sector has expanded over the years before such a bill was approved.  “It took [an estimated] 193 licensed casinos [in Cambodia] to decide that a law on commercial gambling management was now needed,” Ear noted.

He points out that Singapore didn’t have a single casino before officials passed a needed regulatory framework. Now, there a couple of casinos there, Ear said.

The [Cambodian] minimum investment requirement is likely to apply only to new investments, so it serves as a barrier to entry, meaning now that 193 are operating, new ones will have to pass a hurdle,” Ear added. He noted the government did the same thing with college and universities. That initiative created barriers to entry that benefitted the existing colleges and universities.

“Will the authorities put lipstick on this pig? Of course they will. They created it. They more than likely [allegedly] secretly own equity in exchange for regulatory protection, so they’d want their baby to live,” Ear said.

Some Cambodian Gaming Properties Reopen

The Khmer Times also recently reported that some 30 casinos in Sihanoukville closed or laid off employees, and another 33 furloughed staff. But 10 or more casinos in Cambodia have reopened, starting in July.

The land-based casinos were closed on April 1 because of coronavirus risks. Earlier, Cambodia banned online gambling in January. Thousands of Chinese nationals left Cambodia after the ban went into effect.

In April, gaming property owner Kang Qiang had placed gold urinals in his Sihanoukville, Cambodia gambling venue, while land-based casinos were shuttered.