Civic groups in Cambodia working in social development are urging the authorities to immediately close gambling facilities, which are taking away the daily incomes of simple people and high-ranking officials alike.
Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development, called gambling a social virus that leads to theft, domestic violence and increased poverty.
“I suggest the authorities close down the gambling sites, as we have already seen that gambling is like a dangerous disease, in the family and in society,” she said.
Cambodia has an estimated 30 to 50 large casinos and up to 100 smaller sites, most of them set up in hotels, night clubs, bars and discos in Phnom Penh. These operate along with sports gambling facilities, kickboxing matches and lotteries.
Cambodia loses millions of dollars a year to gambling, while people spend time betting instead of working and overall production and the economy suffers, said Son Chhay, parliamentarian for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
“It is such a waste of time,” he said. “Our country is an impoverished country, so we need labor to produce.”
Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naroth said sports betting was permitted, but there is only one casino in Phnom Penh, Naga, which doesn’t allow Cambodians inside.
“Besides Naga casino, there are only slot machines in the hotels,” he said. “These are only electronic machines.”
Hun Sen has meanwhile ordered a crackdown on slot machines and a ban on gambling by Cambodians, an order local authorities are following.
However, Son Chhay urged the closing of all gambling establishments, including sports betting.
Foreign companies are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from Cambodia, he said, adding that the companies bribe high-ranking police and military officials to protect their businesses.