Cambodia may walk back its decision to shut down its online gaming industry, risking the ire of closest regional ally China.
Online gaming has become a powerful economic driver in the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, attracting hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers catering to clients mostly within mainland China, where gambling remains illegal.
The explosive growth of online gaming over the last two years raised hackles in Beijing, apparently forcing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to issue a directive last month halting new online gaming permits.
“We are not sure yet if it’s an absolute ban or not,” Ros Phearun, deputy director general of Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.
Cambodia is not the only country in the region to develop an online gaming industry that caters to mainland Chinese clients; the Philippines has one as well.
Cambodia, however, seems to have gone along with calls to shut the industry down, at least initially.
According to local media reports, around 90% of businesses — including massage parlors, restaurants and casinos — in the beach boom town are owned by Chinese, and the influx of Chinese has led to a rising number of crimes like murder, kidnapping and extortion.
Still, industry insiders remain unconvinced and believe online gaming has a future.
“I think at the moment it’s just a press release,” said George Lazenby, general manager of Jin Bei Holding, which runs a land-based casino in Sihanoukville.
Jin Bei received an online casino permit last month and is looking to launch operations later this year.