Modern history of gambling in Cambodia goes back to late 70s. And before that in April, 1975 the “Khmer Rouge” seized the power and renamed the country into Kampuchea, turning it into the large concentration camp. Money was abolished as useless. During three years of real genocide more than a million people died, and even more fled the country. The economy was totally ruined.
In 1978 the dictatorship was overturned, and all features of peaceful life came back, including national currency – riel. However, it is not highly valued even today. Dollars are spread everywhere, while riels are associated with
The first gambling laws.
The population of Cambodia – Khmer people – has always been venturous. They are ready to lay a bet on everything, even the weather conditions. That is why gambling industry was one of the first to revive after 1978. Something like casinos, made from stretch, began to spring up like mushrooms all over the capital city.
Ten years afterwards the country began to come to life. In 1989 the new Constitution was adopted. In 1993 the monarchy and the previous country name Cambodia were restored. Civilized casinos started to appear. The most famous was Naga Resorts Floating Casino.
That floating gambling house cost nearly 100 million. It was moored in Phnom Penh off the Mekong seafront near the Cambodiana hotel. It was established owing to the 1994 agreement with the Malaysian company Ariston.
The main hall in the hold and 2 VIP-rooms on deck had room for 50 slot machines (mostly these were poker machines) and 43 gambling tables as well as sport pari-mutuel machine. Bets began from $20 in roulette and $50 in card games. The first attempt to stop gambling outrage was made in 1996. A new law, forbidding gambling industry (except for those allowed by the government), was passed. In 1997 Currency Control Law was passed.
It was the beginning of civilized gambling industry development. However, observation of laws in Cambodia still remained rarity. That’s why somebody managed to get permission despite prohibition, and the rest continued their work – now beyond the law.
The «great outcome» of casinos.
While in legal casinos the game goes on quietly, underground establishments are known for gunshot and explosions, murders and kidnapping. When in 1999 a lot of famous players were taken as hostages at once the Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a document, according to which all the establishments were supposed to be located 200 km from Phnom Penh. This had to be done within half-year.
The exception was made only for the Naga Resorts Floating Casino. Its owners defended their right in court on the ground of 1994 agreement. The Ariston Company was offered an apology, and all the others got the press-release, reminding where their place was.
Just recently new gambling houses appeared in the capital, but «Naga» still remains factual monopolist.
After the events of 1999 the largest gambling centre was in Poipet, a town on the border with Thailand. The first casino was opened there in the same year. By the year 2001 there were 7 casinos there. In the following years Poipet was thriving.
If in 1998 the population was hardly 10 thousand, at that time it exceeded 100 thousand. Though the rich avoid these places, there are crowds of venturous Thais, as in their country gambling industry is completely forbidden.
When in 2002 diplomatic relations between Thailand and Cambodia were ruptured, the city started to lose more than one million dollars every year, and on the other side of the border riots began.
The conflict was solved, but requirements for the documents in Thailand made things hard for the players. It created queues at the check-points and problems for casino workers from Thailand, predisposing to hire local citizens. So the Thai Government thought about legalization of gambling.
Over the last years kingdom authorities began to open access to the local market for foreign companies, hoping to lead this industry to the worldwide standards. In particular, the first lottery headed by «Win Win Gaming» had already finished, and by efforts of «Ariston» the new 8-storeyed entertainment complex with five-star hotel was built near «Naga». A lot is being done in Cambodia in order to change the country’s reputation of a dangerous place for foreigners.
In modern Cambodia a lot of things attract tourists: tropical scenery and ancient temples are found side by side with modern hotels. And all this is accompanied by quite free morals. The kingdom has got the reputation of being the country of brothels, drugs and gambling. But when you study the Anti-gambling law the last point may look strange.
Anti-gambling law of 1996.
The law itself, passed on the 26th of January, 1996 is really simple. Here are its fundamentals:
Gambling is forbidden on the whole territory of Cambodia, except for the permission of the royal authorities. All other permissions are invalid.
All gambling regulations are under the jurisdiction of Internal Affairs Ministry.
The participants of illegal games are imposed a fine of 10 to 50 thousand riels, or imprisoned for a week or maximum for a month. Further violation leads to the penalty from 50 till 500 thousand or imprisonment from one month to one year.
Organizers and agents of illegal games are punished by a fine of 5 to 20 million riels and from 1 to 15 years in prison.
Players and organizers get the highest possible punishment if the game involved minors.
All money found in an illegal establishment, shall be confiscated in favor of the state, as well as used equipment.
Manufacturing, importation and sale of gaming equipment without governmental permission shall be punished by a fine of 500 thousand to 5 million riels and a year in prison with confiscation of the equipment.
Further violation leads to the highest possible fine and prison term.
Authorization of gambling without the governmental consent is forbidden Violation of this prohibition shall be punished with imprisonment from 1 to 5 years.
The same term of imprisonment is for any protection of the establishment from the governmental actions.
The severity of the law was caused by the atmosphere, which can only be described as an outrage. For the same reason all the casinos were withdrawn to a distance of over 200 km from Phnom Penh. There was only one establishment left – elite, unlike most others, Naga Resorts Floating Casino, operated by the Malaysian Ariston Company.
Poipet – Cambodian Las Vegas.
Outside the capital there are 14 casinos all over the country. In particular, four establishments are situated in Sihanoukville. But without a doubt the largest center is Poipet, where there is one of the main border crossings from Thailand. There are seven casinos in the town, which has grown tenfold in a short period of time.
Rich clients do not stop in Poipet. The main clients are Thai shuttle traders and just gamblers, deprived of such opportunities in their homeland. The peak of border crossings is registered during World Football Championships and European Cup (for the sake of tote betting), and usually the stream of people is around one thousand on weekdays and up to 3-4 thousand on weekends.
Poipet is a real city of contrasts. There is a luxurious district with modern casinos near the border, but it’s worth driving a little further and the pavement ends, giving way to bad roads, buffaloes in paddles and stilt houses.
The largest casino in Poipet is the Star Vegas Resort. Guests can find the hotel with 550 hotel rooms, indoor swimming pool and golf course as well as all the other infrastructure facilities at their disposal. There is also 2400 square meters gaming halls.
Players will find 130 slot machines, 7 roulettes and 7 Blackjack tables, 4 tables for Tai Sai (the same as Sic Bo – betting on any combination of numbers turning up on three dice). But the most popular in Cambodia is Baccarat and its mini-version, so there are 70 tables for playing Baccarat in the Star Vegas Resort. They bring up to 98% of profit.
The average number of casino visitors is 109 thousand players, each of whom leaves $8. Large clients have free entrance to the entertaining establishments, and even free accommodation.
Losers can put their jewels in pledge here in order to be able to return home, and luckier ones can buy them.
Most dealers are Thais and Khmers. European appearance is highly valued, but life outside the casino is dangerous because of poverty. Therefore, not many people from Western Europe dare to take up this job.
Cambodia with the population of 13 million is visited by a million tourists a year, and its reputation is gradually recovering. This increases the interest of large companies. For all the others it is unlikely to set up the gambling industry in the nearest future.
Memories of one player, who visited casinos in Poipet, turned out to be at the disposal of our website, and we are pleased to present them to your attention.
«Thai cities are not the proper place for casinos» – this was the decision of Thai king Rama IX. Since that decision was made casinos cannot legally exist in Thailand. However, they can be located in neutral border strips on the territory of Thailand, i. e. at the border with Cambodia and Laos. This is a small territory where you come after you cross the border of one country, but before you go through the customs of another country. This place attracts venturous Thais, Cambodians and Laos, as well as the Chinese.
The most venturous and developed gambling zone is the territory near Poipet city. One can get here by motor transport (approximately 4-hour drive by bus from Bangkok) or on foot (some Thais prefer it) from the nearest populated place. The tour of tourists who want to enjoy the amazing beauty of Angor Wat (one of the largest ancient temple complex in the world, located in the jungle not far from Cambodian town Siem Reap. Buses arrive at the customs terminal and the trevellers drop off. The surroundings that appear before their eyes can hardly leave them indifferent. Those tourists, who had visited the border, shared their extraordinary impressions: «Where the border begins the civilized life and the road ends. It seems that the sun is fading away». Before the trip it seemed to be an exaggeration, but when we left the passenger compartment of the bus we really couldn’t see the normal road. We plunged into the dust and poverty. Crowds of hungry and dirty children with miserable eyes, rushed to our feet, begging for anything. Rickshaws in the grimy grey clothes were dragging very heavy weights (bags, sacks, various goods) through the dust cloud on wooden carts. A lot of people for a small fee were ready to help with the documents and provide escort, in order, as they explained, we could cross the border safe and sound. After that we had a feeling of insecurity: «What will happen when we go through the customs? Perhaps we will really need a guide to make our travel safe? » But we decided to do everything by ourselves, and then act according to circumstances.
After passing the checkpoint we saw a beautiful arch with the inscription «Kingdom of Cambodia», and the number of the wretched and the poor greatly decreased. There were only dust and rickshaws, dragging their burden from one part of the neutral zone to another and backwards. There was a free trade zone behind that arch, known throughout the world as «duty free». It is represented by the market with stalls offering a huge variety of goods, souvenirs and cigarettes at low prices. Boutiques and more common shops are located, as it turned out later, in casinos. There we went at our own risk. What kind of casinos can you find among such poverty and misery? Dilapidated bar tables, covered with shabby tablecloths, reeking of cheap cigarette smoke and human suffering; dirty people with sweaty hands and tired of pain and bitterness faces, paying no attention to the stench, anxiously handling shabby yellow cards…
Imagine our surprise when, on entering the first casino we saw a completely different picture! And it was amazing! Everything was sparkling and shining. Design and interior were modern and gorgeous. At the entrance we were met by a smiling hostess who politely offered in English to be our guide in the world of entertainment and pleasure, and accompanied us to the reception and through security checkpoint with metal detectors. In the huge hall there were a lot of imported expensive slot machines of such brands as Williams, Konami, and Aristocrat. They were connected to a variety of diverse jackpot systems, electronic and electromechanical roulette. In the casino hall there were about 50 gaming tables, where you could hear the shouts of joy and frustration…
In total there are seven casinos on the small territory of border strip, about 2 kilometers long: «Holiday Palace», «Holiday Poipet», «Star Vegas International Resort», «Princess Crown», «Golden Crown», «Tropicana», and «Grand Diamond City». Not every casino could boast such an abundance of slot machines and gaming tables, as well as service and variety of games. Borderline casinos resembled Las Vegas: large space, noise and fun all around, festive and venturous atmosphere that awaits you wherever you may be within the complex. Almost every casino has its own hotel, boutiques, restaurants, as well as additional services such as massage, swimming pool and even golf courses. Players are given free buffet, cigarettes and drinks. Almost every casino has a great number of various imported slot machines and jackpots. You can also find pusher machines, electronic horse race, video-baccarat (an electronic baccarat, in which the main game takes place on a large plasma screen, and players bet on electronic boards), and even robot-assisted Baccarat (players bet on electronic boards, and the gigantic mechanic hand is distributing and turning cards under the glass dome). Each gambling house has more than 50 gaming tables offering a variety of games (not only card games). The largest number of casino tables are Baccarat tables (the most popular game among the Asians) and its various types. The number of Poker tables is smaller, and there are very few Blackjack tables (the game is so popular in the West). As far as poker is concerned, this game is very conservative in many local casinos. Except for bonus betting everything is presented in its original view – oasis poker without the right to change cards. There was an impression that local people don’t even know about all the variety of poker games ad rules, represented in the European countries. And maybe they just don’t want to know. But, nevertheless, people are sitting and playing.
Finding the Blackjack table was not so difficult like playing this game. After ten minutes of tiresome stay at an empty table and the talk to the manager we were suggested playing other games. Our refusal made the manager nervously rush about the hall and resulted in the long wait for the dealer to open the table.
Baccarat. To say that Asians love baccarat is to say nothing. They adore it. The largest number of casino tables is for Baccarat, and only a small number of them are empty. They play Baccarat cheerfully and eccentrically, crumpling and throwing cards.
In addition to these popular games you can find roulette, craps, Wheel of Fortune, Pai Gow, Three Card Poker, Tai sai (tai sai – a three-dice game in which betting is done on a special layout), Pok daeng (Thai game, created on the basis of poker; players are dealt two cards), Sip them (another variation of the game, created on the basis of poker; players are dealt 3 cards), Tai sai (sic bo), Fan tan (a game in which players bet on the number of “beads” or stones, which will remain in the last heap, after the dealer randomly pours unspecified number of “beads” or stones and divides them into heaps of four; it is done on the table with special layout) and Fan Tan dice (a game in which players place their bets on combinations of several dice on a special table).
Most of these games are difficult and not clear for the Europeans. Casino staff can help to understand the rules of games at the request of a client, but it takes a lot of time to master the rules of all these games. And the situation with time is not so good at the border. If the person is slightly delayed, he or she will have to spend the night there, because unlike casinos that operate around the clock, the border crossings work from 9:00 till 17:00.
Crossing the gaming zone and the customs, you find yourself in the Kingdom of Cambodia, and again plunge into the world of poverty, workers and peasants. When we were in the territory of the kingdom, no matter how funny it may sound, actually the sun faded, and heavy rain started…