Cambodia on Sunday said it is banning online gambling, which helped propel a wave of Chinese investment in local casinos, saying that the industry had been used by foreign criminals to extort money.
The southern coastal city of Sihanoukville has emerged as a particular center for gambling and many of the dozens of Chinese-run casinos that have sprung up there have online gambling operations.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia will stop the issuance of online gambling policy and licenses, both within and outside of the Kingdom of Cambodia, from the date of signing this directive,” a directive signed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said.
“Some foreign criminals have taken refuge in the form of this gambling to cheat and extort money from victims, domestic and abroad, which affect the security, public order and social order,” the directive said.
China is Cambodia’s close ally, its biggest donor and investor. It has also been trying to crack down on cross-border gambling, criticizing operations in the Philippines that are similar to those in Cambodia.
Separately, Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana has called for online gaming operations that carry out activities close to military camps to be relocated on security concerns.
Lorenzana said that he is worried that Chinese employees working in these online casinos could be tapped for intelligence gathering by their home country.
The government estimates that most of the about 138,000 employees of online casinos are Chinese and that the businesses cater mainly to people from China.
“Knowing that Chinese companies are mandated by the Chinese government to assist in intel collection for their government, it is not far-fetched that individuals, likewise, could be compelled to do so,” Lorenzana said in a statement on Sunday.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua (趙鑑華) had sent him a message saying that if Chinese workers in the Philippines are accused of being spies, the same can be said of Filipino workers in China.
The diplomat’s statement was “preposterous,” Lorenzana said, adding that the two situations were not comparable.
The gaming centers are very near military camps and naval bases, he said, adding that he believes that the Chinese workers are here as workers, not spies.
Leechiu Property Consultants estimated in July that the sector employs about 345,000 people.
“What I am alarmed about is the potential that they could be tapped for info gathering purposes,” Lorenzana added. “That is why I support the relocation of the centers to economic zones that are not near military camps.”
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