Foreign Casinos Have Been a Disaster for Cambodia

Beyond the government’s crack down on striking workers from the NagaWorld casino complex, Chinese-run gambling operations have brought a host of social ills.

On June 27, hundreds of Cambodian security personnel violently dispersed a group of striking NagaWorld casino workers, beating the mostly female crowd and leaving 10 people injured.

Since December 2021, staff at the casino in Phnom Penh have engaged in organized strikes against layoffs at NagaWorld, which is Cambodia’s largest casino and one of the capital’s major employers. The strike and accompanying protests have resulted in the arrests of hundreds of protestors and raised the ire of government officials and state-run papers, who have wrongfully claimed that the worker strike was instigated by foreign agents. However, NagaWorld itself is not a native project: it is owned by Chinese-Malaysian businessman Chen Lip Keong and is publicly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. NagaWorld is just one foreign-owned casino among many that have produced a host of new social challenges in recent years.

Gambling and foreign-backed casinos are not new in Cambodia’s history. Foreign travelers have encountered Chinese-owned casinos in Phnom Penh as early as the sixteenth century. However, the gambling industry in Cambodia exploded in 2017, when Chinese-funded casinos took over the once-sleepy beach town of Sihanoukville and initiated an arrival of Chinese tourists seeking to gamble abroad, something that is illegal in China outside Macau. Sihanoukville was transformed by the influx of casinos and accompanying Chinese hotels, restaurants, and karaoke clubs, and Chinese nationals came to own 90 percent of businesses in the city.

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