Casinos in Cambodia‘s border towns are on tenterhooks over Vietnam’s plan to relax restrictions on local residents entering Vietnamese casinos.
Earlier this week, Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance submitted a draft decree that could end the longstanding prohibition on locals in casinos, an inevitability that Cambodian border casinos have nonetheless anticipated with much the same enthusiasm as an adult male converting to Judaism.
The nearly one dozen casinos in the Cambodian town of Bavet, which lies just across the border from Vietnam, are particularly unnerved by this event. Lim Kim Seng, chairman of the Lucky89 Group, told the Phnom Penh Post that his two border casinos “will face a lot of challenges to remain profitable” if Vietnamese punters can gamble in domestic casinos.
Not everyone is ready to fold their tents. Johnny Ferrari, whose Start Live Casino has helped companies like Lucky89 launch online live dealer casino operations, says the online future will remain bright, but only if casinos are willing to think big.
Ferrari said most Bavet casino operators that have launched online sites “only cater to the Chinese underground” and don’t make the necessary effort to “build regional brand awareness.”
Most of Bavet’s online sites cater to Chinese and Vietnamese players, and Ferrari says Vietnamese players will choose Bavet-run sites because they can earn online rewards that can be redeemed as accommodations at Bavet casino-hotels.
Of course, Cambodia could shore up its domestic casino industry by relaxing its own prohibition on its citizens accessing local gaming halls. In 2014, Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance began studying the ramifications of allowing locals in casinos, partly over concerns that Vietnam might beat them to the punch and deal a body blow to the casino industry.
But this idea appears to have been a passing fancy. Ros Phirun, deputy director of the Ministry’s financial industry department, told the Post that Vietnamese law changes “would likely make it difficult” for border casinos, but said the Bavet venues were small players that mostly attract Vietnamese “that come to play with maybe VND 10k (US 45¢).” In other words, Bavet casinos should not expect the government to ride to their rescue.