Hotel is OK, But Not Casino, Phnom Penh Governor Says

Naga’s Plans Need Gov’t Approval, Official Says

The planned five-star hotel for the $100 million Nexus Naga resort is a good idea, but the casino attached to the resort is not, Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said Sunday.

Malaysia-based Ariston Sdn Bhd, which operates the Naga Floating Casino in a ship on the Ton­le Sap, is planning to build a luxury resort that will include a 750-room hotel. The site is located south of the Hotel Sofitel Cam­bodiana, about 500 meters from where floating casino is moored.

“It’s good to have more high-class hotels in Phnom Penh,” Chea Sophara said. “But the casino should not be located in Phnom Penh anymore. The casino should be located 200 km outside of the city.”

Chea Sophara’s reasoning comes from a decision the government made in late 1998 to ban casinos within the city.

But Chen Lip Keong, owner of Ariston, said last week a 1994 deal with the government guaranteed him the right to build and run a high-end casino here. A court last year agreed with him, allowing the Naga Floating Casino to continue operating .

Chea Sophara said he has not yet seen the resort proposal and won’t make a final decision until he sees the plan. Chen Lip Keong said he has not yet spoken to the governor about the resort.

Kong Vibol, secretary of state at the Ministry of Finance, said his ministry and the Council for the Development of Cambodia, which reviews foreign investment projects, welcomes any five-star hotel in Phnom Penh. But he declined to comment about the casino aspect of the project.

If the hotel project is at least a $50 million investment, it will need approval from the government, but if it is less than $50 million, it will only have to go through the CDC, Kong Vibol said.

Sorn Sokna, vice president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Chea Sophara, saying the hotel is a good long-term investment for the city.

And he also agreed with the governor on the casino, noting that as part of the government ban on casinos in the city, Prime Minister Hun Sen also outlawed Cambodians from gambling.  “Having a casino in Phnom Penh is a bad idea,” Sorn Sokna said.

Chen Lip Keong said as part of the 1994 agreement with the government Ariston promised to invest $1.3 billion in the Siha­noukville area in exchange for being granted the exclusive right to build and operate “the finest casino in Asia” in Cambodia.

Khov Chuly Development Ltd transferred the proposed resort site to Naga officials as part of a $1 million deal, casino and municipality officials said.

In addition to the hotel and casino, the Naga resort is also to include a nightclub, a shopping arcade, restaurants, a ballroom and a fitness center. Construction on the resort is slated to begin this month with the opening scheduled for January 2002.



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