Will the end of Chinese involvement in ASEAN’s online gambling sector see a spiral in property prices?
A stark example of this is playing out in Cambodia, where there have been reports of the property bubble bursting in Sihanoukville – a beach town now known for its casinos – after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the country would stop issuing online gambling permits on 18 August.
In the Philippines, though, President Rodrigo Duterte has remained steadfast in his support for online gambling, and the revenue it earns for the country’s coffers, despite increasingly stern warnings from Beijing.
Gambling is illegal in China and online gambling centres which cater to Chinese nationals have sprouted up across ASEAN as a result – most notably in Cambodia and the Philippines.
Gambling syndicates hire Chinese to operate these online gambling centres, and the influx of Chinese nationals employed in the online gambling sector in both Cambodia and the Philippines is well documented.
While this has driven up rental prices – both for office space which host these centres and premises which house the workers – this may soon be a thing of the past.
Bradley Murg, director of Global Development Studies at Seattle Pacific University, told Casino.org that his sources in Sihanoukville estimate that around 10,000 Chinese had left the city by the first week of September as a result of Hun Sen’s directive.
Speaking at a real estate expo earlier this month, Kim Heang, CEO of Khmer Real Estate, told Cambodian media that such departures will take a toll on the property sector in Sihanoukville, Poipet and Bavet.
“The buildings in Sihanoukville that used to be rented out for US$20,000 a month, no one is renting them now, not even for US$8,000 a month,” he said.
While the Filipino government estimates that there are some 130,000 Chinese nationals working for over 50 online gambling companies in the Philippines, insiders say the number is closer to 300,000.
The influx of Chinese workers has driven up property prices, and there are stories of Filipinos moving out of their homes – and renting them to Chinese online gambling operators – as they stand to make nearly three times the going rate in rent.
According to international research house ECA International in March, the average rental price for an unfurnished, three-bedroom apartment in the mid-range of the expatriate market in Kuala Lumpur was RM6,632 (US$1,621) per month.
Chinese online gambling syndicates, though, are paying well above market value in Malaysia – where online gambling is illegal.