On August 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive banning online and arcade gambling in Cambodia. More specifically, the government will stop issuing new licenses and won’t update current licenses when they expire. It will mean that all online or arcade gambling should cease in Cambodia by August 2020. More surprising, he said, according to a statement, that “Cambodia needed to develop the country base on natural and cultural heritage tourisms but not based on an income from online gambling.”
In short, what the government has just committed to is a major U-turn. Previously, it was the greatest supporter of turning Cambodia’s tourism sector over to Chinese visitors arriving for gambling – at the expense of the traditional tourist market of Western backpackers. And it was the government that applauded the transformation Sihanoukville, a coastal city previously popular with backpackers, into a Southeast Asian Macau, and repeatedly played down tensions between the Chinese community and the local population, even when concerns were raised by the provincial governor.
Bradley Murg reported in the South China Morning Post on September 5 that an estimated 10,000 Chinese citizens had left Sihanoukville following the government’s announcement on online gambling, which Murg dubbed the “Great Chinese Exodus of 2019.”