Cambodian Coastal City Nicknamed Mini Macau by Chinese Tourists
Sihanoukville, Cambodia is becoming an international gambling hub, due to its growing concentration of casinos and its large number of Chinese mainland residents. The coastal city is home to 30 land-based casinos, with 50 to 70 more under construction — depending on the source.
Sihanoukville is the capital of the Preah Sihanouk province. Once not more than a fishing village, it has a growing population. 30% of the residents are Chinese nationals who maintain second homes on the Cambodian coastline.
Cambodian residents cannot gamble in the local casinos. That leaves the growing gaming destination to high rollers from across Asia and Oceania, but especially Chinese visitors.
Gambling is associated enough with Sihanoukville that some now call it “New Macau“. It hearkens back to a time when Macau was called “The Las Vegas of China”. That was when Macau, the former Portuguese colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1999, was still on the rise. These days, it’s gaming revenues eclipse Las Vegas’s revenues several times over.
The Sihanoukville Strip
The casino resorts are a result of investment by the Cambodian government, but more pivotally by the Chinese government. It is part of the “Belt and Road” initiative which Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for hundreds of billions to be invested in 70 countries worldwide, especially in Asia.
The idea is to transform Central Asia into a Chinese-influenced trading area, much like it once influenced the Silk Road international trade network in the Medieval and early Renaissance periods. Southeast Asia is another important target for the “One Belt, One Road” project.
Cambodians from rural areas, attracted to the high wages and good benefits that Sihanoukville’s casinos pay, have flocked to the city. Meanwhile, Chinese tourists arrive from the mainland to enjoy the resort city.
Mini Macau in Cambodia
The JinBei Casino is a good example of what’s on offer in Sihanoukville. A year ago, the JinBei did not exist. Benson Tan, a former executive at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, manages the operation. Mr. Tan spoke of the infrastructure investments that made the mini Macau possible.
Benson Tan said, “The government has planned to develop this place into a mini Macau. The Chinese government took the leading role in the Cambodia infrastructure investment. Without that initiative, I believe that Sihanoukville City’s economic growth would be set back by another 5-10 years.”
“For example, the proposed expressway from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville (150 miles away) will shorten the traveling time from Phnom Pehn Airport to Sihanoukville to 1.5 hours. This will bring millions of visitors from international [locations] and Phnom Penh City, to Sihanoukville.”
Hui Wang Corporaiton, famous and wealthy for forex exchange and remittance services, supports foreign access to the casino. CYTI International Tours arranges junkets to JinBei Casino.
JinBei Casino’s 30 gaming tables and 560 casino staff — 95% of them local — it is the largest casino in the city. Baccarat is the main game, but blackjack, roulette, Nhau Ham, and Texas Hold’em are available.
The casino floor also has 50 electronic gaming machines (slots) and 2 AlfaStreet Console Roulette machines. The 2,000 square meters (6,500 square feet) casino floor presents 3 VIP saloons and a main gaming hall.
Sihanoukville Casino Construction
It’s a good bet JinBei Casino won’t hold the title of largest casino for long. The gaming space is small compared to casinos in Macau and Singapore — tiny compared to American casinos’ gaming space. With dozens of other casinos on the way, including some by major gaming companies, bettors can expect an escalation in the opulence and gaming opportunities.
That means more Cambodian workers should flock to the city, which could become one of Cambodia’s largest metropolitan areas. Word has spread that good jobs can be had in mini Macau.
Cambodia Dealers Receive Good Jobs
Jim Huey Leng, a croupier at JinBei Casino, “I feel very good and am satisfied with my work here, because they provide us with free housing. They also provide food for us. We have 3 meals a day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Huey Leng said the Mandarin Chinese lessons he took in high school were a key to his receiving a job at JinBei. Being bilingual paid off with a lucrative job as a roulette dealer.
Chinese Businesses Take Root
Not everyone is happy with the influx of Chinese tourists and the investments. Local vendors complain they have been evicted from their shops by their landlords, who want to clear the way for Chinese vendors. The evicted say Chinese business owners can afford to pay 5 times the rent they can.
Western tourists no longer visit the area at the rate they once did. Sihanoukville is known for its pristine white beaches, so it became a favorite stop for backpackers from Australia, Europe, and North America. With the influx of Chinese gamblers, hotel prices are three times what they once were, so backpackers no longer find the area affordable.
Cambodian Businesses Left Behind
While Cambodian workers are happy with the arrangement, longtime Cambodian business owners are struggling. Vuth Ung, once a successful local restauranteur, ran one of the most popular local restaurants as recently as two years ago. Today, Mr. Ung’s restaurant is empty most of the time.
Anthony Morse of Channel News Asia asked Vuth Ung about the drop in business, to which he replied, “Western people — very, very, very few [visit]. They don’t come anymore.” When asked why Chinese tourists did not come to his restaurant, Mr. Ung said, “Chinese always go to Chinese restaurants.”
Speaking of the casino resorts, he added, “They drink there. They eat there, so all the income goes back to the Chinese people.”
Sihanoukville is a city in flux. Rapid change came with the Belt and Road investments. More rapid change is on the way. One day in the not-to-distant future, Sihanoukville might become the Cambodian Macau. For now, it is a city on the make with a growing influx of Cambodian workers on the make.