The reminder by Phnom Penh Municipality that electronic gaming is only permitted in hotels has not alarmed Diplomat Cafe and Entertainment Centers.
“We are in the process of renovating and adding hotel facilities upstairs,” said Tang Weng Cheong, manager of the Phnom Penh-based company. “We operate everything legally.”
The municipality issued an announcement June 30, reminding all businesses offering slot machine gaming that it is permitted “only in hotels, not allowed to open besides this place, not allowed to open branches and cannot allow Cambodian nationals to play.”
The Diplomat centers currently offer an upscale coffee shop in front and a limited number of electronic gaming machines behind frosted glass doors.
The three locations are owned by Malaysian investors. Tang said the Malaysian firm Ariston, the owner of the Naga casino, does not own Diplomat, though he did not say who does own the chain.
“They came here as investors. If we wanted to confront the government we would not have set up shop on Main Street,” Tang said.
He said he does not know if the company has a specific license to operate slot machines, nor could he say for sure whether Cambodians have been prevented from playing at the locations in the past.
“We have not received formal communication from the municipality,” Tang said of the restriction against Cambodians playing or of the need to obtain permission to operate. “We have never received a letter…We read about this only in the media.”
Tang said that only a small amount of Diplomat revenue comes from slot machines and that the company is registered with the Finance and Commerce Ministries to operate as a company.
The June 30 announcement says that gaming businesses must obtain specific permission from the municipality, must have licenses for the machines and specific permission from the Royal Government.
Um Sotha, director of the Municipal Commerce Department, said Monday that certification from the municipality only comes after higher level permission is obtained.
“The municipality released the announcement in order to inform illegal gambling parlors throughout the city that are running slot gambling outside of hotels, and those running them inside hotels, that they must contact the Council of Ministers, Commerce Ministry and Finance Ministry immediately to obtain a license,” he said.
Um Sotha could not say how much a permit costs but said it was a large sum.
Hotel Association President Chris Ho welcomed the clarification of slot machine licensing procedures this week and said all hotels should apply.
“The hotel where I work, the Preah Khan in Siem Reap, has slot machines because there is nothing to do in town after 8 pm. It is a service for clients like providing Ping-Pong,” he said. “I think more hotels should apply for licenses. It is a way to keep clients at the hotel and make more money.”