Cambodia was pretty much the only country in Asia to issue highly desirable online casino licenses. With one important condition: you also had to operate a land-based casino in order to be eligible for such an online license for long time.
Many casinos in Sihanoukville therefore had gaming tables with cameras on them. So that the gamblers could play a game of Blackjack or Baccarat live from their couch at home.
Snookyville, as the town is affectionately known by Cambodians, had grown into one of Asia’s premier casino destinations in just a few years, with dozens of flashy casinos and dozens more under construction.
But since January 1, 2020, online gambling has been banned in Cambodia. The need to build a casino in Sihanoukville has disappeared. And the existing casinos saw a large part of their turnover disappear. This spring, a month-long corona lockdown was also added.
Dozens of casinos have therefore surrendered their gambling license and sent their staff home. Is that bad? For the people who have become unemployed, yes. But many others are happy that Sihanoukville is becoming a normal beach town again.
The booming casino business had quite a dark downside. Where suddenly there is a lot of money, especially in previously poverty-stricken areas, many people try to profit from it. Also in a less legal way.
These problems, including drugs, violence, large-scale corruption and money laundering, in addition to political pressure from China, prompted the banning of online casinos.
The Qatari television channel Al Jazeera made an all-revealing and ditto shocking documentary about the casino explosion in Sihanoukville: Cambodia’s Casino Gamble .
A Chinese casino empire to rival Macau is investing big in Cambodia, transforming a once-sleepy seaside town into a hub for gangsters and shady operators.
Tens of thousands of Chinese workers have moved to Sihanoukville, many working in the backrooms of hastily built casinos or laboring night and day on construction sites. As soaring skyscrapers fill the horizon, the Cambodian government is welcoming the massive cash injection with open arms.
But as homes are demolished and roads collapse under the weight of construction, resentment among locals is growing.