How Cambodia’s online gambling ban sparked the Great Chinese Exodus of 2019 – and why Beijing is fine with it

Phnom Penh’s online gambling crackdown has snared hundreds accused of scamming mainland Chinese, while offering Cambodia a chance to rid itself of an industry that has negatively affected some of its growing cities.

Two weeks ago, it was business as usual in the Cambodian border town of Bavet – the online gambling industry was booming, Bentleys and Rolls-Royce made their way through massive traffic jams on the main road, and Mandarin was the lingua franca. Then Prime Minister Hun Sen pulled the plug.

On August 15, the Cambodian police arrested 127 Chinese nationals in Sihanoukville, implicated in an internet scam that entailed extorting funds from Chinese citizens in China.

A few days later, Hun Sen declared: “The Royal Government of Cambodia will stop the issuance of online gambling policy and licences, both within and outside the Kingdom of Cambodia, from the date of signing this directive”, citing the threat to security and public order. Existing licences will not be renewed.

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