Municipal officials have closed a video game parlor at Parkway Square shopping center and are threatening to shut down the city’s three largest casinos in the latest attempt to curb kidnapping.
First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara on Monday blamed gambling and the debts incurred for the frequent abductions that have plagued the city for the past two years. The casinos, he said, have “turned young people into killers.”
Police and a municipal prosecutor on Friday went to the new Parkway Square shopping complex to investigate allegations of illegal gambling that had been printed in a local newspaper, Chamkar Mon district’s deputy governor, Lor Yuok, said Monday.
Police closed a games room in the Mao Tse-Tung Boulevard complex that contained 121 video games, he said. Parkway’s owners have been ordered not to re-open the room or sell the equipment until the investigation is completed.
In addition to action taken against the Parkway, police shut down a video game parlor with five large game machines at the Riverside Hotel near Wat Phnom, Chea Sophara said.
Deputy city Prosecutor Chin Chiva said Monday he did not know whether the video games are for gambling and that an “expert” from the Justice Ministry would be asked to look at the machines. He did not know when the investigation would be completed but said he expects a court decision sometime next month.
“We want to solve this fast because we don’t want the owner to lose money because of delays,” he said.
A manager for Parkway Square declined to comment Monday.
For the past several years, the city has tried—mostly unsuccessfully—to clamp down on unlicensed gaming houses in Phnom Penh. But Chea Sophara said the move on the Parkway should serve as a warning to other casinos that this time the city means business.
Officials, he said, are now taking aim at the three largest casinos—the Holiday, the Naga Floating Casino and the Cambodia International Club owned by tycoon Teng Bunma.
Both the Holiday and Naga are licensed casinos, according to the city and Interior Ministry, although the Malaysian-owned Naga has in the past maintained that it has an exclusive license.
It has never been clear whether Teng Bunma’s casino, which opened last year on the third floor of the Hotel Inter-Continental, is also licensed.
Earlier this month, Chea Sophara sent a letter to the Interior Ministry urging that all existing casinos be closed, including those that have been licensed and the one owned by Teng Bunma.
He also asked that no new casinos be permitted.
Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Monday he was not aware of any decision to close down the casinos but added that the topic has been discussed and that he agreed with the idea.
“I congratulate any decision to close down the country’s casinos,” he said. “It is good for society if there are no casinos.”
Khieu Sopheak did not know if such a move would include the Caesar International casino in Pailin or the Koh Kong International Casino at the border with the Thai province of Trat. Analysts have speculated that a November attack, in which two died, at the Koh Kong casino was the result of a gambling dispute.
So far, casino owners aren’t panicking in the wake of the municipality’s warnings.
A spokesman for the Holiday casino said no action has been taken, and that he is not worried. “We heard the statement but we’re taking it with a grain of salt,” said the spokesman. “We’ve been here for four years and have gone through these phases before.” (Additional reporting by Debra Boyce)