Cambodian casinos are having difficulty staffing their live dealer online gambling operations following continued crackdowns on Chinese-run online fraud rings.
Thursday saw the most recent mass arrest of Chinese nationals running an online fraud operation out of a hotel attached to a casino in the Cambodian town of Poipet. The joint operation by Chinese and Cambodian authorities followed a similar mass arrest of Chinese nationals in the Cambodian town of Sihanoukville last November.
Sihanoukville had been earning a reputation as a burgeoning live dealer online casino hub, largely run by Chinese operators targeting punters back home, where gambling is illegal. But despite the fact that the November arrests weren’t targeting online gambling businesses, most of the Chinese operators and their staff left the country shortly thereafter and have yet to return.
Golden Royal Hotel and Casino owner Rakthanak Sambath told the Phnom Penh Post that 90% of the estimated 5k Chinese ex-pats who used to call Sihanoukville home had fled following the arrests. Sambath said many of these operators had relocated to the Philippines, where the online gambling business has a firmer legal footing.
Queenco Hotel and Casino general manager Aharon Gini voiced similar concerns, saying his company had been on the cusp of signing a $1m online casino deal with Chinese investors, who haven’t been seen in Sihanoukville since the November arrests.
Cambodian authorities have long permitted licensed casinos to operate online gambling sites. Just one month before the Sihanoukville raids, the government’s point man on gaming issues, Ros Phearun, acknowledged that most of the licenses his department had recently issued were intended primarily for online sites run by Chinese operators.
Fast forward to this week, and Phearun says online gambling remains a legal grey area and, while officials were doing the best they could to regulate the activity, it wasn’t the government’s job to entice investment in the sector.
Meanwhile, Sambath says the Chinese operators who fled Sihanoukville “will only come back if the government advertises that it allows online casinos,” leaving each party waiting on the other to make the first move.