More Chinese punters flock to Poipet

More Chinese punters flock to Poipet

Cambodian border town could get even busier with revived rail service

Poipet is home to 22 casinos, employing about 10,000 Cambodians and more than 1,200 foreigners. (Kyodo Photo)
Poipet is home to 22 casinos, employing about 10,000 Cambodians and more than 1,200 foreigners. (Kyodo Photo)

Chinese people are beginning to flock to the Cambodian border town of Poipet, which has become the country’s second most popular gambling destination after the coastal city of Sihanoukville.

There is no official record of how many Chinese are in Poipet. However, one estimate suggests that between 8,000 and 10,000 Chinese are in the city, either involved in the construction or gaming industry, or staying as short-term tourists who go there for gambling.

Poipet could become even busier now that Thailand and Cambodia have officially opened the “missing link” from Aranyaprathet to restore cross-border rail service for the first time in 46 years.

Although they do not share a contiguous border, China has had a historic cultural and commercial relationship with Cambodia. Beijing has in recent years cultivated close ties with Phnom Penh, and there has been a massive influx of Chinese investment in the country, leading to stepped-up immigration of Chinese workers.

Mayor Keat Hul told Kyodo News that the city also attracts thousands of Thais who cross over daily to try their luck at more than 20 casinos including smaller ones.

He said between 2,000 and 3,000 Thais enter Poipet daily, mostly to visit a strip of casinos and hotels conveniently situated between the Thai and Cambodian passport control counters, sparing them the need to go through Cambodian immigration.

The city’s 22 casinos, up from nine in 2016, currently employ about 10,000 Cambodians and more than 1,200 foreigners, mostly Thais and Chinese, according to government records.

The population of Poipet, about 80,000 five years ago, has increased to about 120,000 and is due to rise further owing to a massive influx of people so far this year, according to the city’s Administrative Director, Nhem Pheung.

Chinese nationals, he said, began flocking to the city late last year.

While casinos are legal in Cambodia, Cambodians themselves are not allowed to gamble in them, only foreigners. And with one exception, NagaWorld in Phnom Penh, casinos are not allowed to open within 200 kilometres of the capital.

The coastal city of Sihanoukville, 231km southwest of Phnom Penh, currently has 86 casinos including smaller ones. It is considered the most popular destination for Chinese looking for entertainment and gambling.

Of the roughly 200,000 people living and working in the city, unofficial records suggests Chinese number some 70,000.

Ros Phirun, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance and in charge of the casino industry, told Kyodo News that 102 casinos were fully operational in the country last year, generating US$56 million for government coffers.

NagaWorld accounted for roughly 40% of those revenues, followed by casinos in Poipet with 22%.

Ros Phirun said the tax revenues from casinos are expected to increase to $70 million this year.

He said that there are currently 163 casinos nationwide, many of which are located along Cambodia’s borders with Thailand and Vietnam, employing about 40,000 Cambodians.

Smaller ones tend to be owned by Cambodians and bigger ones by foreigners, including those from Malaysia, Thailand and China.

NagaWorld, owned by the Malaysian billionaire Chen Lip Keong, made a net profit of $391 million in 2018, an increase of 53% compared with a year earlier, on $1.4 billion in gross gaming revenue in 2018, an increase of 55 percent over the previous year, according to the company’s statement.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has been regularly criticised by his political opponents for promoting the casino industry.

In 2012, Hun Sen said that while he dislikes casinos, he allowed them to be built mainly in order to “protect the border” from encroachment by Cambodia’s neighbours.

“They can remove border markers, but they can’t remove five-storey hotels and casinos,” he added.

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