The gambling industry in Cambodia began around the time our country regained its independence in 1993. Casinos were forbidden during the Lon Nol led Khmer Republic (1970-1975), Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979), and during the Vietnamese-controlled People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1989). Those were periods in Khmer history many wish to forget.
Today, museums and scattered relics are the only signs of what occurred during those eras. Most of our country is extremely safe and tourism is experiencing rapid growth. Visitor arrivals have grown from 118,183 in 1993, to 286,524 in 1998, to 701,014 in 2003, to 2,125,465 in 2008, and to 3,584,307 in 2012. No doubt many people are coming to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. However, a lot of the other tourism is because of our legal casinos.
Sihanoukville has beautiful beaches; however this is true many places in Southeast Asia. The big difference is that Sihanoukville plays home to seven casinos. We also have NagaWorld in Phnom Penh, and 2 border towns that have a number of casinos – Bavet on the Vietnamese border and Poipet on the border with Thailand. This all began shortly after our constitution was adopted on September 21. This transformed our country’s status from a United Nations supported state to a sovereign country. In this article I cover this history, our laws and also where to gamble online.
Initially our government intended to use casinos to bolster our economy. At the time, they also believed that it would also show the world that our country had undergone huge changes, and that we were no longer ruled by an oppressive regime. However, it wasn’t long before the government changed their minds. Our current gambling law is Kram January 26, 1996 Suppression of Gambling (Ref: English Version). Among other things, this law makes gambling a crime and stipulates the punishment as quoted below.
Any person who gambles shall be subjected to a fine from ten thousand (10,000) Riels to fifty thousand (50,000) Riels or to an imprisonment from one (1) week to one (1) month. Repeated offenders shall be fined from fifty thousand (50,000) Riels to five hundred thousand (500,000) Riels plus an imprisonment from one (1) month to one (1) year.
Today this law is still in effect, but does not apply to holders of foreign passports who use government approved casinos. Technically these are only open to barang (foreigners). However, in reality, the “no locals” policy is only in place to keep government officials happy. In practice, we can gamble all we want. At NagaWorld gambling by Cambodians is almost risk free. Over in Poipet the situation is a little bit different. Wealthy locals are fine, but lower income earners such as tuk-tuk drivers are often watched by the police. Any big win can result in a 60-90% fine that needs to be paid immediately. Before I talk about our laws and tourist industry, I’ll explain about betting online.
Because gambling here is technically illegal for Cambodian people, there is a chance we do not get paid when we have a big win. We are breaking the law by playing real money games, so there is nothing we can do if the casino refuses to pay us. We cannot go to the police either. When it comes to online casinos we have the same concern. However, we also have to worry if the games are even fair as the websites available in Cambodia are almost completely unregulated. In my strong opinion, anyone who can read Basic English is better off playing at the sites listed below. These companies are all based in the United Kingdom (UK) or their offshore territory Gibraltar. `
Gibraltar is the home of one of the oldest gambling commissions – the GRA (the Gibraltar Regulator Authority). It is the place where UK bookmakers first opened online casinos in the 1990s. In 2005, the UK started its own commission modeled after Gibraltar’s GRA. A gaming commission gives licenses to online casino sites. However, before they approve the license, they first audit the software to ensure the games are fair. If they find any evidence of rigged or otherwise unfair games, they will not give out a license. Furthermore, they re-test the software continuously to ensure that everything is in order. Because of this, any company who receives a gambling license from the GRA is safe to use.
Depositing with UK casinos can be challenging. They do not take credit card, debit card or bank wires from Cambodia. Instead, we need to use an eWallet system that works like Paypal. For this www.skrill.com is best. You will need to open a Skrill account and deposit into your account by sending a wire transfer. Once you have money in your Skrill account, you can then use this to deposit money at any online betting site. If you want to withdraw, you can request a cashout to your Skrill account at any time. You can then withdraw from Skrill directly to your Cambodian bank account.
www.188bet.com is another option that can be used in Cambodia. They are licensed in the Philippines. 188bet supports Khmer language and has easy to use banking methods. The most commonly used deposit option is direct transfer which can be done online. This works in the exact same way as any other bank transfer, as you will be sending the money to another Cambodian bank account. The second option is to use Wing Money vouchers. These can be purchased in shops throughout the country, as well as online or with a mobile phone. Now that we’ve looked at playing online, I will get back to discussing the history of the industry in Cambodia.
As I already mentioned, in 1993 our newly reformed Kingdom of Cambodia licensed many casinos, however then in early 1996 outlawed gambling. However, some establishments were allowed to continue. The most famous, and perhaps only legitimate one was Naga Resorts.
In 1994, our government took bids for the rights to build a casino 800 meters off the coast of Sihanoukville, on Naga Island. The bidding was won by Lip Keong Chen’s Malaysian development company Ariston Sdn Bhd. They agreed to an additional investment of about $1 billion (USD). Ariston collected much of this from the Malaysian government. They acted as investors because they felt moving past the serious war scars of two decades prior was good not just for our country but for all of Southeast Asia.
In 1995, our government granted Ariston a 20-year exclusive license to operate a floating casino docked in our capital Phnom Penh. They then established the subsidiary NagaCorp, and named the casino Naga Resorts. It was positioned just offshore in Phnom Penh and featured 43-table games and 50 gambling machines. This was the start of modern gambling in our country. However, in spite of the exclusive license given to Ariston, by 1998 casinos had sprung up all over Phnom Penh.
This led to a series of lawsuits by NagaCorp who felt their 20-year contract had been violated. In 1999, PM Hun Sen gave all other operators a 6-month notice. When that period was up, any company other than Naga found operating with 200km of Phnom Penh would be prosecuted. NagaCorp was then given permission to open the luxury land based property they operate today called NagaWorld.
NagaWorld is the only legal place to gamble in Phnom Penh and attracts visitors from all over Asia
The current NagaWorld is located just 4km outside the city center next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is 1km from the Royal Palace. It has 660 hotel rooms, 15 restaurants, a spa, a night club, 1500 betting machines and 170 table games contained within its 14,200 square meters of land. There are plans in place to expand the property even further. An agreement was reached in late 2012 for a $3.69 million (USD) expansion to Nagaworld called Naga2.
This is expected to open by early 2016. It will include an additional 1,033 rooms, and 50 VIP Suites. It will also include up to 300 gaming tables, 500 machines, and a retail tunnel with high end shopping connecting the two properties, plus a movie theatre and more. Their dominance of the Cambodian market will not end anytime soon. They hold exclusive rights to offer gambling within 200km of Phnom Penh until 2035. They also hold a lease and license on NagaWorld and Naga2 until 2065.
Both of these came as the result of negotiations held in 2005. As part of this deal, they have returned their interests in Naga Island Resort and Sihanoukville Airport to the government.
Originally it was planned for Sihanoukville to be the sole location for casinos in our country. WikiTravel: Sinhanoukville tells a bit of this areas tragic start, but this is now well in the past. Tourism to Sihanoukville is booming and it is one the top places to live for expats who play online poker in Cambodia. I consider gambling in this area to be a growing industry as the government relies on it heavily for tourism. The properties I know of in Sihanoukville are as follows:
As well as the casinos mentioned above, we have many others positioned along our borders. The most famous area is Poipet, which is about a 4-hour drive from Bangkok, Thailand and a few hours drive from Siem Reap, Cambodia. Back in 1999 when casinos were banned within 200km of the capital, this is where most people came. Although the area is part of Cambodia, everything here has a huge Thai influence. In fact, all the casinos in Poipet use Thai Baht as their currency.
Poipet is also famous, or perhaps infamous is the better word for both sports betting and prostitution. With the latter it is sadly the case that human trafficking might be problem. This can be read about on many human rights websites. Poi Pet practically has no laws and has been nicknamed the Wild West of South East Asia (wild west refers to a period of early United States history when there were not many laws and is an international saying due to movies made during this period that are nicknamed Westerners).
The lawlessness is also alluded to in an article on Poipet football betting by a major UK newspaper. All of our other borders with Thailand have casinos either nearby, at the border post, or both. These are covered in my article on Thailand casinos. This is also true of our borders with Vietnam with Bavet being the most popular location.
You can read more about Vietnamese casinos in my article here.
Border casinos and those in Sihanoukville are among Cambodia’s biggest tourist attractions
Our politicians see these as something that cannot be avoided. According to Agence France-Presse, in August 2012, Prime Minister Hun Sen commented:
I don’t like casinos, but the biggest goal for giving permission to build them is to protect the border. One can remove border markers, but one can’t remove five-story hotels. Don’t be stupid. You force me to talk about it. This should be a secret strategy to protect the nation.
This was allegedly part of a 5-hour speech to parliament where he was denouncing the opposition’s accusations that he had allowed the Vietnamese to encroach our borders with the building of casinos. I think he’s made his position known many times over the years. Tourists gambling here is fine, but locals cannot. He has been very active in speaking against sports betting in Cambodia; our previously legal bookmaking chain CamboSix was abolished in early 2009.
Considering our PM’s position, the fact that NagaWorld holds a license until 2065, Sihanoukville developments being massively on the rise, our impressive increase in tourism figures, etc. I think it is safe to say casinos in Cambodia are stable and will keep growing even more so.
The only thing I can foresee changing industry some in the future is Thailand. Thailand’s King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej) is age 87 as of December 5, 2014 – he has been Thailand’s king since 1946. It was his decision that Thailand is not the place for casinos, but those along the borders were okay. During the remainder of his reign this will almost certainly remain the case.
As tourists from Thailand are a major source of revenue for us, this could affect things should in the future they legalize gambling. It would also create a situation where many Cambodians cross the border to gamble in Thailand (the reverse of what we have now). This is a scenario that could lead to our country abandoning our rarely enforced no locals policy. Until then, the safest option for us remains to bet online using international sites.