The province of Sihanoukville in Cambodia was once a very relaxed and quiet destination but all that has changed in recent times as it has become one of the top casino destinations in the country. Sihanoukville is a port city in Cambodia that’s known for its beaches, seafood restaurants and late-night bars. The residents of Sihanoukville have suddenly seen their province transformed by the gambling industry and they aren’t very happy with what’s happening.
The city has slowly started to transform into a Chinese province as Chinese companies have invested millions of dollars to develop a dozen casinos, factories and other infrastructure. This has resulted in an influx of Chinese workers and Chinese tourists running amok with Chinese-labelled products and being indifferent in their behaviour at times.
The Belt and Road Initiative
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dream to revive the old Silk Road gave birth to the Belt and Road initiative in 2013, which started China’s aggressive program to erect $1 trillion worth of infrastructure in different parts of Asia and Africa.
Cambodia’s Sihanoukville became a target for the Chinese president’s vision, since the third-world country was in desperate need of financial aid which came in the form of foreign investments and infrastructure. According to Cambodia’s information minister, Khieu Kanharith, of the $1.3 billion invested in Sihanoukville in 2016, $1.1 billion came from China. As the country’s biggest foreign investor, it was an offer that the ailing country could not say no to.
In no time, Sihanoukville found itself opening tax-free economic zones to lure Chinese investments, which was quickly filled with hundreds Chinese-owned factories, three dozen casinos, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers that Cambodia’s president said are only there temporarily to offset the lack of skilled Cambodian workers.
According to people who have been to Sihanoukville recently, the city has enormously changed in the last few months, smog and dust saturating the air. The massive transformation of this Cambodian province has not gone down well with the locals who feel they have lost their province to China.
Influx of Casinos And Money Laundering
Apart from the many buildings and factories that have mushroomed in the area, casino resorts have also taken up prime real estate space. These casinos in Sihanoukville started to flourish when Macau and Manila started to curtail its online and proxy gambling activities, forcing many Chinese and Western gamblers to run to Cambodia for their gambling fixes.
Sihanoukville’s casinos offer online gaming with live dealers that enable patrons to watch baccarat tables live and then put down remote bets. There are also shady backrooms who share casino gaming licenses which are used to run online live tables. Smaller casinos also revealed that they do not understand anti-money laundering requirements and hence don’t comply with them.
Because of the lack of regulations in place and unregulated proxy gambling, many gamblers get away with money laundering and evading currency controls. According to a 2017 report published by the intergovernmental Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, Cambodian banks do not have enough oversight and security of these transactions, rendering the economy at medium-high risk for financial crimes and money laundering.
Locals Displaced From Their City
Since most of the visitors and tourists to the casinos and restaurants in the area are Chinese, these establishments have started writing their labels and advertising only in Mandarin. At first glance, because of the sheer amount of Chinese characters that are flashing in the area at night, one would think that they are in a city in China and not in a Cambodian city. Power outages are now a frequent occurrence, since casino lights drain the grid when they turn on their lights at dusk.
The Chinese have taken over Sihanoukville and the locals are filled with resentment. Prices of rent and housing have skyrocketed in the area, forcing many locals to uproot from their city and transfer someplace else. Small houses which before were occupied by a small family of four became converted into bunk-bed rentals that sleep at least 10 Chinese workers. Locals who have decided to stay because of the opportunities inside the casino are happy they have work but are unhappy at the way they have to live their lives.
The crime rate has also increased, mainly because of misbehaving foreign tourists and the Chinese mafia. Earlier this year, Sihanoukville Governor Yun Min said in his report to Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior that the crimes and kidnapping have increased in the city and said that the police are helpless.
While officials in Cambodia and the remaining locals struggle to keep their city alive, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked his constituents to remain patient till 2020, when the majority of projects will be completed and Sihanoukville will finally be turned into the Cambodian version of China’s Shenzhen.

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