The government has announced a ban on casinos in Phnom Penh in an attempt to curb a year-long kidnapping wave, top officials said Tuesday.
All casinos in the capital must close immediately except two, which have a six-month grace period, according to a Council of Ministers order approved Monday.
The Naga Resorts Floating Casino and Holiday International Casino are allowed to operate at their current locations until June 30, 1999, but then must relocate at least 200 km away from Phnom Penh, according to Khieu Thavika, a government spokesman.
The government will assist the two casinos in finding new locations, according to a statement read on Bayon television. Managers for the Naga and Holiday casinos would not comment Tuesday on the order.
All other gaming houses in the capital, including the glitzy casino in the Hotel-Intercontinental owned by controversial tycoon Teng Bunma, will be closed, Khieu Thavika asserted.
The ban was applauded by government officials as a positive move in the fight against crime. But some concede that actually closing the casinos—many of which are supported by top military and police generals—will be a difficult task. Analysts questioned whether the ban will have any impact on crime.
The Council of Ministers also decided that casinos will not be allowed in Siem Reap town, Khieu Thavika said.
Additionally, Cambodians are banned from gambling in casinos, effective immediately, according to the Council of Ministers’ order.
Cambodians are already banned from the Koh Kong International Casino on the Thai-Cambodian border. According to government officials, any gaming house caught allowing Cambodians to play could face closure.
Government officials said they hope the bans will help reduce crime and the frequent abductions they believe are often related to gaming debts.
“Casinos cause a lot of suffering,” Council of Ministers Secretary of State Sum Manith said Tuesday. “They are one of the main causes of insecurity.”
Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara, who wrote to the Interior Ministry earlier this month requesting the casinos be shut down, said he was happy to learn a ban had been ordered.
Some customers at the Holiday Casino on Tuesday said they agreed with the ban, and linked gambling to crime.
“They should do it today, not in six months,” said one Cambodian gambler as he finished a beer. “The government is crazy to allow casinos to come here. Cambodia is poor. It doesn’t need this.”
One security consultant, however, questioned whether there is any link between a recent surge in crime and kidnappings and the city’s casinos, expressed doubt that gaming debts are the reasons behind the frequent abductions.
“This won’t improve the security situation,” said John Svensson of Global Safety. “There is definitely not any link.”
It is also questionable just how successful the ban will be.
Previous crackdowns of illegal gaming halls have had little success, despite an anti-gambling law passed in January 1996 that imposes maximum fines of $8,000 and jail terms of up to five years on owners of illegal gambling clubs.
There have been several prominent raids on unlicensed casinos, including one at the Princess Hotel in June when 11 gambling tables were seized.
Last week, police ordered Parkway Square to close its games room until a court determines if the video games are for gambling.
But even officials who support the ban agree it will be difficult to enforce and may drive gamblers underground.
“The government has tried to crack down on prostitutes in several places in the city but it could not be done completely,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, a strong supporter of closing casinos, said Tuesday. “If the buyer still wants, the seller will still sell. Where there are gamblers, there will be gambling.”