Well-heeled and travelled China tourists find nightlife in the State capital unexciting, and some of them pine for a casino visit, according to some tourist guides.“What can enthral them for hours at night is a flashy casino and all its attractions which Sabah lacks despite all the so-called sports and recreation clubs with slot machines,” said nature guide Simon Chin.
This was already anticipated years ago when the rich China tourists throng casinos around the world to try their luck, but a request for Sabah for a casino licence was ignored. In the past, some in Sabah suggested that a casino licence be granted to start one at an island resort, where only tourists are permitted with locals barred from gambling.
This was rejected due to the country’s religious status, although Genting Berhad holds a casino licence and it sits on the Selangor-Pahang border.
Today, the CEO of Genting Berhad Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay’s personal wealth has been overtaken by billionaire Tan Sri Chen Lip Keong who first made his fortune in Sabah’s Karambunai Corp building the seaside resort hotel and homes, and is now worth US$5 billion up from US$1.6 billion as reported recently by The Edge.
Chen moved to invest in Cambodia from Sabah, where there was no problem to get a casino license, unlike Malaysia, through his NagaCorp Ltd.He was frustrated with some legal problems in Sabah as some landowners/claimants could file claims in the civil courts, as well as in the religious courts, for land issues deemed settled earlier for his resort.
Raking in a profit of US$390 million in 2018, NagaCorp paid two per cent taxes or some US$8.8 million (RM36 million) to the Cambodian government. In comparison, how much tax does Sabah get from the many sports and recreation clubs, if at all? Of the 150 casinos licensed in Cambodia in 2018, NagaCorp is the biggest and Chen currently owns 66.10 per cent of the company’s shares. An official from the Ministry of Economy and Finance told the media that they expect to collect around US$56 million in total revenue from all casinos for 2018. It is illegal for the Cambodians to gamble but the country has banked on gamblers from China to grow its economy.