Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said he would order the closure of popular football bookmaking center Cambo Six, canceling the gambling firm’s contract with the government.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh, the premier said that in addition to Cambo Six, he would order district governors in Phnom Penh to shut down the city’s ubiquitous gambling centers, as businesses were ignoring a subdecree he signed in December banning Cambodians from using electronic gaming machines.
“The Ministry of Finance can negotiate with Cambo Six, and we will pay it back and shut it down immediately,” Hun Sen said, adding that the government would buy the company’s computer equipment and use it in schools.
Cambo Six—which has 20 listed locations in Phnom Penh along with another two in Siem Reap and one in Preah Sihanouk province—was first approved in 2002 and re-signed a four-year contract with the government in January 2007.
Under that contract, the firm paid $1 million to the state for the exclusive right to take bets on football games played across the globe.
Heng Say, administrative chief for Cambo Six, said Tuesday that he was not authorized to comment on the prime minister’s order. When asked who owned the company, he declined to answer, telling a reporter only, “my boss cannot speak Khmer.”
In December, Hun Sen signed a directive saying only foreigners would be allowed to use gaming machines, and only hotels and licensed casinos were allowed to operate them. But on Tuesday, he said that the directive was being ignored, prompting him to ban gaming machines altogether.
“Gambling causes domestic violence…theft and robbery,” he said.
In his speech, Hun Sen also singled out Daun Penh District Governor Sok Sambath, saying he knew of businesses in the district that were allowing Cambodians to use gambling machines and threatening Sok Sambath’s job if the order to shut down gaming centers in the district went ignored.
“Withdraw their license and shut them down and it is not a problem anymore,” Hun Sen said, referring to the district’s governor. “If you respect me, you have to shut them down, and if not you will be fired.”
Reached by telephone, Sok Sambath said an impromptu meeting of district governors had been called to discuss the issue Tuesday.
“We had an emergency meeting to get the officials to investigate which slot-machine businesses allow Cambodians to play, and shut them down,” Sok Sambath said.
Finance Ministry Secretary of State Chea Peng Chheang, who oversees the gambling industry, said he had not yet received an order banning gaming machines or ordering Cambo Six closed.
He said the government made about $20 million annually in taxes paid by casinos and other gambling outfits, but he declined to comment further until he had received the prime minister’s latest order.
A spokesman for the opposition SRP praised Hun Sen’s order, saying the gambling industry was a black mark on Cambodian society.
“Sam Rainsy Party officials raised these questions many times, not just about Cambo Six, but about closing the casinos, because a lot of people are losing a lot of money,” SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said.
“I think society loses much more [because of gambling] than the revenue these places make for the government.”