Posted on: January 3, 2023, 07:11h.
Last updated on: January 3, 2023, 02:27h.
After having to deal with negative press regarding a seedy criminal element running illegal casinos in the country, Cambodia finally began to take action. Its efforts are paying off, as police shut down more businesses and make more arrests.
Cambodia became a haven for criminals who used human trafficking and slave labor to earn hundreds of millions of dollars through illegal gambling, fraud, and more. Only after global condemnation reached a tipping point did officials begin an earnest crackdown on the gangs.
This past October, Cambodian authorities announced that they had raided a number of illegal gaming properties in less than a month. Their continuing efforts have reportedly been successful, leading to a reduction in the size of the illegal gambling footprint.
Police Intervention Paying Off
National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun, via the Khmer Times, stated recently that authorities have arrested 606 people and eradicated 231 illegal gambling operations since September. He added that the success is motivating them to continue and that the police won’t let up.
The National Police and the government have launched a campaign to give illegal operators a chance to shut down voluntarily. If they refuse, which is likely in many cases, they’ll be found and arrested. After the backlash Cambodia received from the international community, prosecution and lengthy sentences are inevitable.
The crackdown isn’t just against illegal gambling operators, either. The prime minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, signed off on an order in September that gave greater flexibility in arresting those who assist the operators. This includes anyone from high-ranking government officials to beat cops on the streets.
Cambodia expressly prohibits locals from gambling. But it isn’t illegal for foreigners to gamble. As a result, there’s a mix of activity that has been difficult to track.
Locals are helping uncover the illegal operations, and those who report illegal gambling activity can be rewarded for coming forward. This is the case in the commune of Banteay Chakrei, where a group of locals got together recently to call out a local casino.
The unknown casino is allowing Cambodians to gamble and the local community isn’t having it. They’ve provided evidence to the authorities about the operations. Now, it’s up to the governor of the province, Chea Somethy, to shut down the casino.
Because it was possible to cater to foreigners, operators used towns like Sihanoukville to set up shop and attract an international clientele. Almost immediately, a Wild West mentality emerged in those areas, which included money laundering, drugs, shoddy construction, and more.
Therefore, the government moved in to put a stop to the activity. The initial crackdown only drove illegal operators underground. With no far-reaching efforts on the part of the police to take further action at that point, illegal gambling dug in.
Operators needed workers and were willing to do whatever they had to do to get them. This included running scams to attract foreign labor with promises of high-paying jobs. When those people arrived, they found squalor and virtually no pay. Some operators locked up underperforming employees in cells as punishment. If an employee wanted to quit, the operator would beat him or her, or demand a ransom in exchange for freedom.
There are areas that have established themselves as viable casino hubs for foreigners. Notably, Phnom Penh and Poipet have significant casino operations. However, even some of those operators have had to deal with bad press.
One legal venue in Poipet is the site of a recent tragedy that led to multiple deaths after a fire broke out. That incident is still under investigation, but officials believe the cause of the fire was overloaded electrical circuits.
The government intervention over the past few months has helped clean up Cambodia’s image, and more importantly, save lives. However, the country needs to turn up the pressure even more if it wants to make a permanent difference.