China doesn’t allow gambling, so some enterprising individuals decided to set up shop just across the border in Cambodia in a seaside town called Sihanoukville. It used to be a sleepy, isolated environment, but the sudden intrusion turned everything upside down. Chinese nationals were flocking to the other side in order to find work or to become gambling entrepreneurs and, as quickly as the influx occurred, the sea of Chinese individuals in the city is receding.
At one point, Chinese nationals controlled 75% of the casinos in Sihanoukville. Buildings were being erected so quickly that Cambodia couldn’t even ensure their safety, which resulted in at least one major catastrophe that killed at least 24 construction workers. However, Cambodia, under pressure from China, has recently made changes to its gambling laws that are turning the tables on gambling operators and are allowing Sihanoukville to somewhat return to its former self.
Cambodia recently banned online gambling. The country’s government has said it will not issue any new licenses and that existing licenses will not be renewed. It expects virtually all online gambling operations to cease by the end of the year. As a result, Sihanoukville is beginning to see a mass exodus of Chinese nationals heading back to the motherland.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) points to the attention the city is receiving from law enforcement, which led to the arrest of 150 Chinese nationals last week, as one indication of the changing environment in Sihanoukville. Those individuals had reportedly been leading an online gambling scam targeting Chinese nationals that may have netted $14 million to the group.
With police firmly in place, 10,000 Chinese nationals have already decided to make a run for the border and head home, according to the SCMP report. One-way tickets from Cambodia to China are sold out, the airport is packed like sardines in a tin can and land borders are overwhelmed.
The exodus isn’t coming just from Sihanoukville. Bavet, which sits on the border with Vietnam, has also seen massive amounts of Chinese abandoning the city, with around 66% of the Chinese population heading for Phnom Penh as they look to exit the country. Another popular online gaming center, the city of Poipet, is seeing similar results.
As the exodus continues, Cambodia will be able to return to normal. It might be possible to envision a time that online gambling will be allowed to make a return, but it will only happen if the country proves that it has the ability to keep scammers and thieves from controlling the industry.