Cambodia Illegal Gambling Crackdown, 10K Venues Raided

Posted on: October 17, 2022, 06:44h. 

Last updated on: October 17, 2022, 11:10h.

Following a series of high-profile cases involving illegal casinos and human trafficking, Cambodia vowed to crack down. The Khmer Times reports authorities are living up to their promise, having raided more than 10,000 alleged illegal gambling venues since the middle of September.

Cambodia human trafficking
Chinese nationals allegedly entering Cambodia illegally stand on a pier following their rescue from a sinking ship in Preah Sihanouk Province, Cambodia. The country is increasing its efforts to control human trafficking and illegal gambling. (Image: Sihanoukville Province Authority Police)

The media outlet quoted Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun, a spokesperson for Cambodia’s National Police, who confirmed the intervention. Over the past few months, a number of foreign nationals have died or gone missing as they tried to escape from their abusive, slave-like conditions.

Drawing international disgust and several reprimands from the United Nations, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered law enforcement across the country to respond. While there’s still more work to do, the country hopes it’s heading in the right direction.

Taming the Wild West

Several cities in Cambodia, including Sihanoukville, became the Wild West of the Asian Pacific region. An attempt to turn the city into a viable casino hub failed, leading to the rise of illegal gambling and human exploitation.

While there have been raids on more than 10,000 suspected illegal operations across the country, the results could be better. The government only cited 127 of those and is determining if there’s enough evidence to prosecute just 273 people. Of those, 56 are foreign nationals.

All of the locations, even those that avoided citations, are now under closer scrutiny. Another 13K people are now on a watch list in case they’re found to be participating in illegal activity elsewhere.

From the highest level of government to local leaders, international pressure forced Cambodia to make changes. The police forces are on higher alert and more regulatory oversight is coming, as well.

The governor of Preah Sihanouk, which is home to Sihanoukville, told all casino operators last week that they now need a license from local authorities and from the central government. This follows the prime minister’s warning last month that he would remove local leaders who didn’t take his order seriously.

Gambling laws have been in place for a long time in Cambodia, according to Heng Kimhong who heads the Research and Advocacy Programme of the Cambodian Youth Network Association.

Questions Still Remain

Of the 10,000 gambling venues that were raided, Cambodian officials last month found 1,700 in Phnom Penh and Kandal. That discovery was part of the initial response to the country’s crackdown, coming about two weeks after the prime minister’s order.

The prime minister expressed his concern that if officials could identify that many illegal operations so quickly, there is an obvious breakdown somewhere along the chain in law enforcement. It would be impossible for such a large number of venues to operate undetected in a single location 

Cambodia is also expecting international support in its fight against human trafficking. Australia’s federal police will assist in any way it can, according to the country’s ambassador to Cambodia, Pablo Kang.

A report by Cambodia’s National Committee for Counter Trafficking last year said that human trafficking doubled from 2020 to 2021. The US State Department kept the country on its “Tier 2 Watchlist” from 2019 to 2021. This indicates that it doesn’t meet the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking.

The US State Department updated that status this year, lowering Cambodia to a Tier 3 country.