Cambodia is a struggling country that relies largely on the influx of tourists who want to immerse in the Cambodian culture. Other than visiting religious temples and experiencing rural Cambodia, many of these tourists come to the country to gamble.
Since most of the countries bordering Cambodia do not have legal gambling industries, the Cambodian government wanted to capitalize on this and started building casinos located on well-known resort areas and border town to attract foreign gamblers while making it illegal for its citizens. O Smach, Poipet, and Bavet all have casino strips located between border checkpoints. Tourists have the freedom to gamble and depart without having to cross the Cambodian checkpoint – a practice that eliminates the need for tourist visas. The popular Sihanoukville and Koh Kong resort areas also have casinos open for individuals with foreign passports.
The country’s casino industry is continually growing, with over US$29 million tax revenues earned by the government from 75 casinos. Casino owners, mostly international investment companies, earned as much as US$2 billion in revenues in 2015 along.
The Cambodia government allows individuals and companies to operate gambling centres as long as they have the proper gambling licence. These companies, however, should not offer their casinos and betting services to the locals.
Cambodia’s gambling laws have undergone several changes in the past. The country has banned any form of gambling throughout Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge. It was only legalised in the early 1990s but the passing of the Law on Suppression of Gambling in 1996 voided all the issued gambling licences and eventually prevented any form of gambling for the residents of Cambodia.
Before the total ban in 2009, Cambodians were permitted to gamble on slot machines since this gambling device was not included in the 1996 gambling law. These were banned as well because of the significant number of violent disputes due to debts.
The government of Cambodia knows that they could not pass up the opportunity of earning from casino tax revenues. This led to issuance and approval of gaming licences and construction of land-based casinos with the condition that only those with foreign passports can gain entry. This condition has a loophole, though. Many urban Cambodians who have dual citizenship and foreign passports can also enter and gamble in the casinos. Most of these Cambodian casinos are located near the border allowing neighbouring countries to gamble without fearing prosecution.
Foreigners who wish to enter the casino must present a passport. They must be 18 years old to place a bet.
The Cambodian National Assembly adopted the law on January 26, 1996, during the first legislature’s 5th session. Article 1 states that all types of gambling throughout the entire kingdom of Cambodia are strictly prohibited. Articles 2 states that all permits of gambling houses issued by the Royal Government are considered null and void.
The law also states that only the Royal Government has the authority to grant licences and permits to open any gambling sites or casinos. Any government official who still issues grants and licences are liable and may be sentenced to imprisonment from one year to five years.
Those found guilty of violating the country’s gambling laws may face an imprisonment of one to one month and a fine ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 Riels. Repeat offenders will have to pay a fine ranging from 50,000 Riels to 500,000 Riels and a prison sentence from one month to one year.
Those who are proven to organize and operate illegal gambling houses or act as gambling agents will face imprisonment from one year to five years and pay a penalty of 5 million Riels to 20 million Riels.
In case the offender is a minor, the law stipulates that the maximum penalties will be given.
Online gambling is not specifically stipulated in any of the country’s gambling laws, it is assumed to be covered by the ban. There were previous reports of the arrest of citizens caught operating or playing online casinos. A number of online casino websites are blocked in the country. Foreigners are not covered by this prohibition.
It is safe to say that Cambodian officials are taking to heart the 1996 Law on Suppression of Gambling. Arrests of violators are widely documented. While many government officials are known to be corrupt, it is not unusual for them to take bribes in exchange for freedom. Some gambling enthusiasts from the rural areas who cannot produce foreign identification are the ones who often bribe the local police just so they can enter local casinos. Due to the country’s strict gambling regulations, illegal casinos came into existence. They are less strict in choosing who can enter and gamble in their casinos. The downside here, however, is players giving up more than half of their daily winnings because these illicit gaming places also pay bribes to the local law enforcement.
The growing popularity of online casinos has not escaped the radar of the Cambodian government. They are already mulling about regulating online gambling. Although, it is still unknown whether the laws will apply to offshore casinos since they do not really have jurisdiction over international companies that have the necessary licenses and permits from their home country.
Cambodia currently 51 brick and mortar casinos spread across 14 cities of the country. A lot of the casinos in the country do not report the exact number of gaming machines they have in their facility, but the general ratio is approximately 4:1. In total, the country has 1,548 table games, 6,430 slot machines, and six poker tables. Aside from casinos, the country also has sports betting parlours.
Most of the casinos are located in the resort area of Sihanoukville, having 16 casinos, 46 table games, 450 slot and video poker machines. Many of the border casinos offer regionally popular games while those in the urban centres offer Macau or Las Vegas-style of games.
Majority of the gambling venues are near the border but the most popular casino in the country is NagaWorld Hotel and Entertainment Complex located in Phnom Penh. It boasts of eight floors of entertainment and an outdoor casino. Gamblers can choose from more than hundreds of slot machines, roulette, poker, blackjack, and baccarat among others. The said casino has a 70-year license, expiring in 2065 and the one that has the monopoly on all casino activities within the 200 kilometres of Phnom Penh until 2035.
The biggest casino in the country is Star Vegas International Resort & Casino located in Paoy Pet. The said casino has 109 table games and 1,284 slot and video poker machines.
Other highly visited casinos are those located in Poipet, over the Cambodian/Thai border. Many of the guests here come from Thailand since they are prohibited from entering casinos in their home country. Since the town is about four hours away from Bangkok, casino owners provide complimentary buses every day to encourage about 3,000 punters to spend cash in their casinos.
Winnings from gambling are not taxed. The casino owners and operators carry the burden of paying taxes to the government. These taxes are collected by the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The country’s official currency is Cambodian Riel, so this is accepted in all of the casinos in the country. For expats and foreigners who wish to play in online casinos, payment methods are quite limited since online gambling is frowned upon here. One of the widely used online money transfers in the country is Wing. Most of the foreigners who live in the country and also engage in online gambling use major credit cards and popular electronic wallets such as EntroPay, Skrill, and Neteller.
As mentioned, the Cambodian government is closely looking at regulating online gambling sites that expats may visit while they are living in the country. By law, foreigners are free to play in online casinos. They are exempted from the blanket ban on gambling. While most of the online casinos are blocked in the country, there are still a few that offer services to Cambodia. Some of these sites have international licenses and regulations. Betting sites like Nordicbet and Unibet are highly rated for their consistency and reliability. Sports betting enthusiasts can bet using Betfair. Some of the online casinos offer great bonuses for players with Cambodian addresses.