Cambodia’s casinos emerging from pandemic hibernation


Cambodia’s casino sector is slowly coming back to life after its prolonged pandemic hibernation.

Last Friday, Australian-listed casino operator Donaco International Ltd announced the “limited reopening” of its flagship Star Vegas casino in Poipet, Cambodia. All Cambodian casinos were ordered to close in April as the government tried to lower its COVID-19 infection count.

Donaco said the limited relaunch would allow Star Vegas to “test its operational systems whilst ensuring the health and wellbeing of staff and visitors.” The company tempered expectations by noting that Thailand’s border with Cambodia remains closed, blocking the primary source of Star Vegas clientele, while insisting the property wouldn’t incur “any material additional expenses” due to the limited nature of the restart. 

Earlier this month, Donaco revealed the financial toll the shutdown had on its fiscal 2020 performance, including a non-cash impairment charge of AU$50.5m due to its downgrading of the value of the Star Vegas casino license amid the ongoing pandemic uncertainty.

Cambodia’s largest casino operator NagaCorp, which holds a monopoly on gambling in the capital Phnom Penh, reopened its flagship NagaWorld property in July. Smaller casino operators were said to be keen to follow NagaCorp’s lead but couldn’t act until the Ministry of Health approved pandemic-related health & safety measures at each venue.

This weekend, Ministry of Economy and Finance deputy director Ros Phearun told the Phnom Penh Post that eight casinos in Sihanoukville had received permission to restart operations on a limited basis. Phearun added that the Ministry expects more casinos, including those based in Bavet in Svay Rieng province along the border with Vietnam, to receive similar clearance “soon.”   

Along with Star Vegas and NagaWorld, that makes 10 casinos to have so far resumed operations, which represents only 10% of the total number of gaming venues in operation at the time of April’s shutdown. It’s unclear how many of these other 90 casinos are interested in reopening, as many were set up for the sole purpose of conducting online gambling operations, which were forced to shut down on January 1.