The Cambodian gaming industry was hit extremely hard, with tax revenues painting a dire picture of a perfect storm – the pandemic hit and the new mandatory yearly applications for license renewals required working hands to approve those applications but those hands were missing. As the pandemic eases its grip, more and more industries should be going back to normal, but the question lingers: Can they really?
47 Licenses Renewed Last Week
The local news outlet – Khmer Times – has reported on 47 casino licenses being renewed by the General Secretariat of Commercial Gambling Management Commission of Cambodia (CGMC) which works under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF). Alongside those, seven games of chance licenses were renewed as well. This is the second wave of renewed licenses, as 13 casino licenses and three games of chance licenses were renewed earlier in June. This makes for a total of 70 gaming licenses renewed in the second half of the year.
According to the report, Mey Vann, secretary of state of MEF has confirmed that the licenses were renewed, and no new licenses were issued saying that the licensees “actually have existing licenses and so we do not grant any new licenses.” This license renewal seems to be a part of the government’s plans to recover tourism and boost the sector which was still being very heavily impacted by the COVID situation even after the beginning of this year.
Cumbersome Recovery Process
According to data published by the CGCC, the situation was indeed extremely dire when looking at the number of operational casinos which was down to just twenty open casinos by the end of June. This constituted about ten percent of Cambodian properties, which are estimated to be 200. The thirteen casino licenses renewed in June are a part of a total of 129 applications, and if the 47 licenses renewed last week were also of that list, that means there are probably 69 applicants still in line for license renewal. This is part of the country’s license mechanics, as licensees must apply for renewal every year, making for a very bureaucracy-heavy process. It’s not a surprise, then, that the received tax revenue from Cambodian casinos was a meager eight percent of the amount required by the same law that made applying for license renewal yearly mandatory.
The changes took place in late 2020 and were aimed at providing more accountability and transparency in the industry, however with a severely understaffed government and a raging global pandemic, this was the straw that broke the industry’s back. With the pandemic still in full force, Cambodian casinos were dying a slow death and after a while, people still wanted to entertain themselves with gaming. This led to the development of numerous gambling websites to fill the created vacuum. The government started killing these websites gradually, with 79 illegal websites shut down in November last year, and a further 15 shut down in February this year.
It became apparent that labor shortages weren’t plaguing just the government, though, and the extent of the damage to the Cambodian casino industry was brought to light when even border casinos weren’t able to resume work after a few consecutive zero-case-days back in May. So, the industry definitely needed a push, and the renewed licenses are coming in clutch, especially since the country dropped its restrictions for non-vaccinated travelers, which should allow tourists and locals to visit the newly opened casino more easily.