Cambodia reportedly condones the return of online gambling to save economy but operators now adopt closed-end management to avoid the ire of China

Online gambling is flourishing once again in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a little more than a year after the Cambodian government’s blanket ban on the business, according to informed industry sources. But this time online gambling operators in Sihanoukville have adopted “closed-end management” and tried to lie low in order to avoid the ire of Beijing, who has been sparing no effort in combatting online gambling in recent years.

Sihanoukville was once a booming port, with its casinos and online gambling sites attracting lots of customers from neighbouring China. A reporter from Allin Media paid a visit to the gaming port two years ago and at that time a certain number of gaming tables at every casino in the region were designated for live streaming of bets. Apart from casinos, many office buildings were used for online gambling.

According to informed industry sources, the Sihanoukville government is now turning a blind eye to online gambling because the region’s economy has shrunk drastically since online gambling was banned in January last year, with many Chinese citizens leaving the region. As the coronavirus pandemic had compounded the economic recession, the Sihanoukville government had no choice but to condone the return of online gambling last June.

However, Sihanoukville’s online gambling business is now done on a smaller scale than before and operators have adopted closed-end management to avert attention. Online gambling firms have moved to buildings enclosed with fences that barred entry of outsiders; even staff members are not allowed to leave the buildings at will.

The return of online gambling is believed to be able to provide a lifeline to local casinos in Sihanoukville in the wake of travel restrictions during the pandemic.

The blanket ban on online gambling was imposed in Cambodia in January last year due to Beijing’s pressure. Following the ban, local authorities in Sihanoukville took steps to give the port city a face lift, significantly improving roads, sewage and other basic infrastructure. Most industry watchers predict that it has strong potential as a more family friendly, mass market destination.