By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – More than 7,000 Cambodians have lost their jobs and dozens of casinos have been shuttered since a ban on online gambling in August, with more losses expected when the government begins inspections this week, officials said on Tuesday.
The southern coastal city of Sihanoukville has emerged as a center for gambling and many of the dozens of Chinese-run casinos that have sprung up there have online gambling operations.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said this week that he would make the online gambling ban permanent after first announcing a halt in August, saying that the industry had been used by foreign criminals to extort money.
Officials will begin inspecting all casinos nationwide beginning Jan. 1 to make sure they have shut down their online operations, Ros Phearun, deputy director-general of the Finance Ministry’s financial industry department, told Reuters.
Ros Phearun said that government revenue would be hard-hit, since online gambling had contributed about a quarter of an estimated $80 million per year in total taxes from casinos.
Since the August announcement, an unspecified number of casinos had already ceased operations, with 136 left nationwide by December, he said.
That number is expected to go down to 94 casinos by the end of January, said Ros Phearun.
“When the online gambling was banned, they went back to their country, then there is a decline of casinos,” Ros Phearun said, adding that Sihanoukville has been hit hard by the ban, with the number of casinos cut by half from more than 70 to 36 remaining.
Yov Khemara, director of the Sihanoukville labor department, said on Tuesday that more than 7,700 locals had been left unemployed after the ban.
“Before, they worked in factories and when there was better salary in casinos, they came to work in casinos,” Yov Khemara said.
He said many of those workers were now going back to factories.
(Editing by Kay Johnson and Christian Schmollinger)