Vietnamese students are increasingly being lured across the border to casinos in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet City, becoming indebted and being held captive by predatory loan sharks, according to a recent Vietnamese media report.
Nguyen Thanh Khiem, deputy chief of police in Vietnam’s Binh Duong province, told Thanh Nien News earlier this month that there were scores of brokers targeting young Vietnamese gamblers.
“The problem is that many of them [the students] who have been cheated by similar scams have in turn lured their friends into the casino cons,” Mr. Khiem was quoted as saying.
Some of the victims are barely teenagers, according to the report, and are lured with free meals, accommodation and $100 in gambling chips. Earlier this year, 13-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh from Binh Phuoc province managed to cross the border illegally with a friend and was subsequently detained at an unnamed casino in Bavet City until her parents paid the $3,000 debt she had rung up, according to Thanh Nien News.
Despite the report, Bavet commune police chief Mao Phin Phirum said that he was not aware of casinos or loan sharks detaining Vietnamese or demanding ransoms.
“Some casinos do offer free meals and accommodation, and hundreds of people per day cross the Vietnamese border to gamble,” he said.
“But they are not students—most of them are businessmen,” he added
Bavet City deputy police chief Keut Chamroeun said that about 200 Vietnamese come per day to gamble, though he said that the number of casinos is actually declining, as three casinos have been forced to close due to bankruptcy in the past two years, leaving 12 operating casinos—the same number as in 2010.
Mr. Chamroeun said he did not know whether students were among the gamblers, but he acknowledged that illegal loan sharks—who he said were not Cambodian—have detained clients until their debts have been repaid.
“The loan providers are Vietnamese, and there have been cases when we had to intervene after the families of victims detained for gambling losses asked us for help,” he said, declining to elaborate on the frequency of such cases.
Pin Bunroath, an investigator with human rights NGO Licadho in Svay Rieng, said that generally, when Cambodian police are alerted to these incidents, they do investigate and arrest the culprits.
“Before, there were only a few arrests made but during the past six months more Vietnamese women have been jailed in Svay Rieng provincial prison after they were charged with illegally detaining human beings,” Mr. Bunroath said.
Svay Rieng provincial prison chief Sous Sakho said that a total of 25 Vietnamese have so far been jailed this year for charges including illegal detention, drug trafficking and drug use, which is an increase on 2012, which saw 17 jailed for the entire year.
“Most of the Vietnamese people were arrested at different casinos,” he said.
Despite the increase in arrests, reports of violent extortion and kidnapping have long plagued Bavet City, earning it a similar reputation to Poipet City on Cambodia’s western border with Thailand.
Last year, Thanh Nien newspaper reported that an 18-year-old student was detained and had his finger cut off and sent to his mother over $2,000 that he had borrowed from sharks operating in the Las Vegas Casino in Bavet City. And a 13-year-old girl was reportedly detained as collateral after her father lost about $5,000 dollars in Bay Tang casino.