Chinese gaming operators are rapidly transforming Cambodia’s southern coastal city of Sihanoukville into the country’s leading casino hotspot.
This weekend, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on the construction boom engulfing Sihanoukville, with new factories, hotels and condo towers dotting an increasingly crowded skyline thanks to the ongoing influx of Chinese investment capital.
Gambling venues are also breeding like bunnies. According to Ministry of Finance spokesperson Ros Phirun, Sihanoukville currently has 16 operational casinos, and nine more are expected to open in 2018.
Phirun said most of the Chinese-backed gaming operators “come to do online gambling,” as licensed casinos are permitted to offer live-streamed action from land-based tables to gamblers in other countries. The local online industry got an additional boost in March via the installation of a new high-speed internet submarine cable.
Cambodia had issued 79 casino licenses by the middle of this year, and Sihanoukville’s casino market is starting to rival that of Poipet and Bavet, which cater to customers who stream across the border from Thailand and Vietnam, respectively.
Aaron Ghini, general manager of Sihanoukville’s Queenco Hotel and Casino, said “in three years, Sihanoukville is going to be bigger – much bigger” than Cambodia’s other casino markets (with the exception of the capital Phnom Penh, home to NagaWorld, the country’s only truly resort-style gaming venue).
Three years ago, Queenco was a money-losing operation looking for a deep-pocketed partner to help keep the lights on. But Ghini says the business is “very profitable today” and plans to double its hotel capacity in the coming years to better compete with the city’s biggest venue, the 490-room Sokha Beach Resort.
Sihanoukville reported domestic and international tourist arrivals rising nearly one-quarter to 1.5m in the first nine months of 2017, with China accounting for 400k of the international visitors.
That would presumably immunize Sihanoukville from the threats facing Poipet and Bavet from border issues or neighboring governments lifting bans on local residents gambling at home. And even if China is serious about curbing package tours to gambling hubs, there’s always that handy online gambling safety valve.