Online Gambling: the Trap of Cambodian Dependency on Chinese Investment in Sihanoukville

Cambodia’s number of online-gambling licensed casinos was the highest among Southeast Asian countries before this sector was banned (in 2019). This had gone from 57 to 150 casinos in just five years.

The increase of casinos had some drawbacks and benefits for the local economy. However, Cambodia’s move to shut down the online gambling is seen as a Chinese experimental trap for Cambodia’s dependency on their investment.

Online gambling was banned by the Cambodian Government before the COVID-19 pandemic to stop domestic concerns of chaos in Sihanoukville. On Aug. 18, 2019, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s directive order announced that new licenses were not provided, and renewing existing licenses for online gambling was banned. All the existing licenses for online gambling ended on Dec. 31, 2019.

Chinese-led gangs, crimes, illegal evictions and land disputes in the city had led to unease among locals and calls for re-enforcement of public order. In one case, a video was posted online by a purported Chinese gang: They threatened to cause chaos on the coast. This sparked widespread media coverage and a vow from the Chinese Embassy to help investigate. It was clear that the growth of online gambling in Sihanoukville was accompanied by a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment. These were cited reasons leading to the ban on online gambling, and the move was welcomed by locals.

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