The Cambodian government on Monday reiterated a previous decision to not renew any online gambling licenses beyond December 31 this year, potentially bring the lucrative sector to a standstill starting next year.
Online gambling has fuelled the casino boom in the coastal town of Sihanoukville, though it has also raised red flags over potential money laundering. The southern town has seen a massive influx on investment aimed at the construction and gambling sectors.
Ros Phearun, a Finance Ministry official, said the government was battling money laundering and took the decision to end online gambling because they didn’t have the technical capabilities to monitor the “new” technology.
He added that the government would conduct inspections of all casinos to make sure online gambling had ceased, or else the casinos would lose their license.
“In Cambodia, we try to eliminate money laundering. Thus, we decide to close [online gambling].”
Kheang Phearum, Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesperson, said that when the directive goes into effect, the authorities will implement the measure to end online gambling.
“The directive from the government states important points, which the local administration needs to abide by,” he said. “We have to implement what is set by the government.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen had issued to directive to end online gambling in August. Last week, the premier said that he had learned online gambling operations were fueling activities of foreign criminal syndicates.
“I see that if Cambodia's economy continues to depend on online gambling, Cambodia's national security will be threatened,” he said at the Sea Festival in Kampot. “We’ll be under the harm of organized crime groups who will come to Cambodia to carry out their activities.
Cambodians have also protested the influx of Chinese money and nationals to Sihanoukville, which they say had affected their way of living in the coastal town.
However, Meas Nee, a social analyst, said it was yet to be seen if the government could enforce the ban uniformly.
“This is the right thing to do indeed,” he said. “However, related to legal implementation, if it's still lax, it will still be ineffective.”
According to Ros Phearun, there were around 140 casino operations in the country, with the government bringing in $80 million from the sector.