Almost two years ago, soft-porn purveyor Joe ‘Girls Gone Wild’ Francis made the rather extraordinary claim that Wynn Resorts honcho Steve Wynn had threatened to hit Francis over the head with a shovel and bury his body in the Nevada desert if Francis didn’t make good on a $2m casino debt. We all chuckled because Francis appeared to think he was living in a Joe Pesci movie… or perhaps he thought he was living in Vietnam. Compare Francis’ comical claim with two terrifying tales of gamblers running up debts they couldn’t pay at casinos in Cambodia – and the very real consequences they faced as a result.
In the first story, the Sai Gon Tiep Thi newspaper reported that men claiming to represent the Bay Tang Casino in Cambodia had held the 13-year-old daughter of a gambler as collateral over his VND100m (US $4,750) casino debt. The girl’s grandparents received a call informing them that the girl had been voluntarily turned over to the casino by her father (the gambler in question) and would be sold to a brothel in Thailand unless the father’s debt (plus interest) was paid in cash. The family paid the money and (thankfully) the girl was returned unharmed on Dec. 26. Her degen father’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
An even more ghastly story comes via the VnExpress newswire. An 18-year-old Vietnamese gambler borrowed VND40m ($1,900) from ‘gangsters’ to bet at another Cambodian casino, but when he lost his stake and couldn’t pay his creditors, he fled home. For some reason, the gambler returned to Cambodia in early December, and a week later his mother received a call from the gangsters, who told her the only way she’d see her son again was to send them VND66m. As the impoverished family pondered their options, they received a package in the mail containing their son’s severed finger and a note indicating that the debt was now VND73m. The note also said that failure to pay would mean their son would end up having his internal organs harvested in China. The family quickly found a way to borrow the money and secured their son’s release. Once free, he told a gruesome tale about being held in a room with other gamblers who couldn’t pay, one of which was missing an ear.
It’s important to note that there’s no proof that the casinos themselves had any role in perpetrating the horrors described above. But clearly, the predatory elements surrounding these casinos in the ‘special economic zones’ along the ‘wild east’ Cambodian/Vietnamese border aren’t fucking around. The quicker Vietnam’s homegrown casino projects – on the Ho Tram Strip, the island of Pho Quoc and (potentially) Ho Chi Minh City – open for business, the better.