A Change of Guard

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Sunday, 4 September 2011

Wary gamblers let it roll over the border [in Cambodian casinos]

Diamond Crown casion in Poipet on the Khmer-Thai border.

Published: 4/09/2011
Writer: King-oua Laohong
Bangkok Post

Gamblers fearful of an announced crackdown on illegal gambling dens in Bangkok have been causing the cash registers to sing in Cambodian casinos over the past two days.

Thais have been arriving by the busload at border checkpoints in Sa Kaeo and Surin provinces, seeking to cross into Cambodia. There are 10 casinos opposite Sa Kaeo, and two opposite Surin.

The exodus of gamblers comes on the heels of an announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung on Thursday that he would get tough with more than 40 illicit casinos in central Bangkok.

Mr Chalerm's announcement followed Rak Thailand Party leader Chuvit Kamolvisit's airing of a video clip in parliament of a large casino in full operation on Ratchadaphisek Road.

A source at the border said the announced crackdown in Bangkok has resulted in a windfall for Cambodian casinos.

The 10 casinos in Poipet, opposite Sa Kaeo, are popular with Thais, who enter Cambodia through the Ban Khlong Luek checkpoint in Aranyaprathet district.

The casinos are mainly joint ventures between Cambodian businesses and foreign partners, including Thai businesspeople and politicians, a military border source said.

Most casinos - Holiday Palace, Golden Crown Club, Grand Diamond City, Princess Crown, Holiday Poipet, Star Vegas and Club, Tropicana Resort and Casino, Howah Genting Casino, Poipet Resort and Club and Star King - provide shuttle buses and vans to and from Bangkok.

Casino customers are charged an initial fare, which is later "refunded" in the form of gambling chips of equivalent value.

The vans and buses are operated by nine tour companies, mostly based in Bangkok, the source said.

The buses and vans run different routes and make stops at several pickup points in and around Bangkok before heading to the border.

Once at the border, customers without passports are issued immigration clearance papers, which are valid for one day. They cannot stay overnight at the casinos.

The source said large border casinos generate between 13-15 billion baht a year in revenue and smaller ones about 500-700 million baht a year.

In Surin, the number of people crossing the Chong Jom border to visit Osamed in Cambodia, where two casinos are located, has more than doubled over the past two days.

Around 3,000 crossed the border yesterday, and the same number passed through on Thursday. This is double the average of about 1,500 people per day on those days, a local source said.

Wattana Chuenyong, manager of the Chong Jom Border Market, said yesterday alone, more than 5,000 people visited the market.

"The market feels very small today," he said.

Meanwhile, 62% of respondents across the country surveyed by the National Institute of Development Administration said the police in respective jurisdictions must face the music for allowing the illegal casinos to operate.

Also, 23% said they had known of gambling dens operating near their homes.

The latest survey also showed 61% disagreed with legalising gambling in Thailand.

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