Cambodia keeps busting unauthorized online gambling operators, while the government is adamant that the legal option is never, ever, EVER coming back.
On Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Post reported that police in Cambodia’s capital had arrested 10 foreign nationals following raids on two locations in a gated community suspected of hosting an illegal online gambling operation.
While the raids resulted in the seizure of the usual complement of computers, phones and other tricks of the trade, police are still interrogating the arrested suspects, apparently convinced that there are additional members of the operation that remain at large.
After developing a reputation as a thriving hub for Asian-facing online gambling operators, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced plans in August 2019 to ban online gambling by the start of 2020. While initial reports were that the ban was a success, later reports suggested that not all Cambodian casinos were observing the ban.
San Chey, exec director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA) non-governmental organization, was quoted in the Post article saying the government still had work to do to ensure the law was being observed. “Online casinos or online games are still there. The crackdown on online gambling is not yet effective.”
Cambodia recently approved its long-awaited Law on the Management of Integrated Resorts and Commercial Gambling (LMCG), which pointedly includes no legal cover for online gambling. While that point may not be getting across at home, Cambodia’s government appears serious about convincing international observers that there’s no going back.
Last week, Chinese state-run media quoted Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for Cambodia’s Interior Ministry, saying online speculation that Cambodia might be rethinking its online ban was “completely imagined.” Sopheak said the government “is firm and will never allow online gambling to make a comeback.”
Since most of the major online operations based out of casinos in regions like Sihanoukville were run by Chinese nationals for Chinese gamblers back home, Hun Sen’s online ban was largely seen as currying favor with Beijing. The fact that the Interior Ministry felt the need to emphasize the permanence of the online ban to a Chinese audience rather than for domestic ears is equally telling.
ONLINE BAN SLOWED TELECOM SIGN-UPS
That said, there’s indirect evidence that Cambodia’s online gambling operators did have a sizable local following. The Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) recently reported that, as of the end of August, the nation’s number of internet subscribers had fallen 5.6% from the same point last year while SIM card subscribers were down 20.5%.
The Khmer Times quoted a TRC spokesperson saying that at least some of this decline was attributable to the online ban. However, that may have less to do with Cambodian gamblers than the thousands of Chinese nationals who reportedly repatriated themselves following the elimination of their gambling business.
NAGACORP SUPPORTS NEW CASINO GAMBLING TAX
As for gambling products that are in the LMCG, the tax rates for VIP (4%) and mass market (7%) casino gross gambling revenue have been dubbed “reasonable” by Tim McNally, chairman of Cambodia’s largest casino operator NagaCorp, which holds a monopoly on casino gambling in Phnom Penh.
McNally told GGRAsia that the tax rates “allow Cambodia to be competitive with other jurisdictions” and, having supported the government throughout the lengthy process of seeing the proposal become law, NagaCorp was “pleased” with the results.