Recently the Cambodian Prime Minister issued a new directive that will effectively ban all online gambling here in the Kingdom of Wonder. What this law is aimed at is of course all of the Chinese that have come into the country to setup online operations in the last few years. Cambodia is one of two countries that will issue online gambling licenses to Chinese entities at the moment, the Philippines being the other. For those of you who have never been inside a casino in a city like Sihanoukville, online operators will often rent casino floor space and setup many tables to deal baccarat. But these games do not deal to any live players. Instead, attractive girls stand in front of a video camera that sends a signal back to players in China who are not allowed to gamble on the mainland due to legislative restrictions. The Prime Minister has stated that those currently operating with licenses can continue until their expiration, but once that date is reached no further licenses will be issued.
On the surface, this law makes absolutely no sense. There is a huge misnomer when it comes to gambling and casinos here in Cambodia, especially in cities outside of Phnom Penh. Examining a city like Sihanoukville for example, it might be easy to assume that casinos are being razed due to the influx of Chinese tourists and that most, if not all, of the revenue is being generated by activities on the gambling floor. But those who know the industry well in this region are already aware that the money made in the pit is but a fraction of what is generated from online activities in which Chinese gamblers are able to send and lose money remotely using a variety of online payment methods. As I stated above, there are groups that rent out huge chunks of space on the casino floor to have young and attractive women deal cards in front of a live feed going back to the mainland. In fact, groups will often rent out hotel rooms inside of casinos for months at a time and simply run the games out of each room, setting up tables inside. If this activity is stopped due to legislative changes, much of the revenue generated from gambling in Cambodia will simply dry up. Nagaworld in Phnom Penh will surely survive as they do not seem to rely on the generation of this type of revenue, but casinos in cities such as Sihanoukville, Hatien, and Bavet will lose access to what really makes them money. We can debate endlessly as to whether the casino and gambling developments in these cities were actually helping local Cambodians in terms of their economic growth, but it goes without saying that they were a big benefit for the government and generating for them much revenue. So can it really be that they would put an end to all these activities and dry up not only what is a huge revenue stream, but big development projects that are the side effects of such an industry?
The simplest answer may lie in the fact that the government has an interest in the Nagaworld Casino and may just be protecting their turf. But if such were the case it would make no sense that they would issue the initial licenses in the first place. Therefore, it could be that they are rethinking their initial policy of granting an online gambling license to nearly everyone who applied for one. I know people with such licenses in this country and as long as one is willing to pay, it was ridiculously easy to obtain. In this manner their argument that this new law is being passed in order to maintain civil order is reasonable. When the obtainment of such a license is that easy it cannot be guaranteed that every group applying for it is a reputable one. in this manner I have already heard of many clients back in China being ripped off by operators here in Cambodia. As poker players most of us know all too well of how easy it is to put money into poker sites but how difficult it can be to get out. Now just imagine never getting the money. Thus this new law might be paving the way for one large and reputable group to come in and basically monopolize the online gambling industry. No more licenses will be issued because one group will oversee everything.
If this is true it can mean sweeping changes for a city like Sihanoukville. With no more licenses being issued, the current casinos will no longer be able to sustain themselves due to losing a huge part of their revenue. They will not be able to maintain a large staff and will no longer have need to migrate over large portions of their groups to run their online operations. This in turn will affect the number of building projects as the number of people to occupy them will severely decrease. But if one group does come in to take the place of many, such a change can be an initial positive for such a city. It can mean that all projects will be streamlined to one standard and that such will make it easier for the government to control all manners of development as they will now have to keep tabs on only one group instead of several. New policies can be enacted to limit the amount of waste from these projects, or at the very least adopt one standard that is safe in how to dispose of such products. And all this can be done while maintaining the huge numbers of Chinese coming into the country as there are groups back in the mainland large enough to replace many.
But at the same time such a monopoly may be harmful in that it will completely wipe out any sense of competition. If one large group comes in to take the place of many and ends up not only running all online gambling, but ultimately come to own every casino and construction project in town there may be a price to pay. Sure things may be streamlined, made more convenient and ultimately safer but such a change would leave one group to set the price on basically everything from the cost of hotel rooms, the rake you pay in a poker room and ultimately everything around town. But then again, the way that things are currently running have already led to an unreasonable increase in price for just about everything so perhaps the situation will be better under one group. I am obviously speculating on many things here and what I have written in this post is purely my opinion. But perhaps there is a hint of wishfulness as well as I have lived in Sihanoukville several times throughout the years and I long for things there to return to some form of normalcy.
Some of you may already know from my social media posts that I had dengue fever my last week in Sihanoukville. To be honest, my health wasn't great before that either. It seemed as if I was sick basically every day I was in Sihanoukville. It is not hard to imagine why when basically every time I step outside, I am stepping in some sort of sewage water that seems to be everywhere. As per my rakeback deal with the WM Poker Room I am supposed to play 70 hours within a 15 day period after which point I get paid my 3 big blinds per hour that I have accrued. I somehow managed to get myself to the poker room every day during the time I was sick but simply could not make it the entire 15 day period. I made it 10 days and fortunately the poker room allowed me to cut this period short and paid me for the abbreviated time. The last few days in Sihanoukville I was basically stuck in my hotel room, not being able get out of bed. There were thunderstorms every day and it was not easy to get out to be able to buy food and drinks. Luckily I had a friend with me who was in town taking advantage of the same deal that I am on. He was staying in the same hotel and was nice enough to get me food and other provisions whenever I needed them.
This last playing period did not start out great for me as I went down about -$1,300 almost immediately within the first 4 days. The next few days I won a little bit here and there to bring myself back a bit, but on the last day that I played I managed a +$1,245 night to bring me from about $800 down to just over $400 up. That coupled with the rakeback allowed me to collect over $1,200 for the 10 days. My hourly shows that this period was not as good for me as in the past, but all things considered health wise I was nonetheless proud of myself for having made myself a profit and getting out of town with a healthy sum. I have been back in Phnom Penh now for a bit over a week and have for the most part spent my time trying to recover. About 8 days in and I feel like I am at about 85% back to complete health. I am also spending my time getting acquainted with my new neighborhood as I had my wife take up a new place while I was in Sihanoukville. It's really a fascinating neighborhood, unlike I had ever seen here in Cambodia. It is basically a huge gated community with their own shops, restaurants, pharmacies and even a huge local market. She got a huge place for only $250 per month which is great value for the size of the apartment and the larger community that it is contained within. A lot of this is of course due to it being outside the city, just beyond the airport about 1 hour from the center of town. So far I haven't minded the distance so much as it was never my intention to play at Naga or any of the other rooms in town anyway. If I really want to see friends or have business in town, I'll jump in a PassApp and enjoy the scenic hour ride into town.
As I mentioned it is not my intent to ride into town every night just to play in some of the games in Phnom Penh. From everything I have heard from friends, even though they remain busy, the games at Nagaworld have been terrible. And I don't care enough about collecting $20 per day to play in the other room. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook today. We both play online and also both happen to agent for the clubs we play in. We were discussing how at the end of the day we can basically play poker anywhere, which is one of the huge advantages of playing online. Fortunately I have been running well online, especially in Omaha, so my plan for the moment is to continue playing online from home. I will be honest in saying that it will not be as much as I made in Sihanoukville and I will have to step up the volume, but I've been able to beat the omaha games on the online clubs for over a year now so I'm farily confident I will be fine.
I have slowly played more and more with each passing day as my health returns to full recovery. I deposited only $100 in my account when I returned to Phnom Penh and have run it up to about $600 in the last 7 days. My rakeback should push that up a bit more, making for a decent first week. I will probably hold off on making any withdraw until I have made a bit more. But I doubt it will take much as life in this part of town seems very inexpensive. It resembles Kampot in that way as my wife and I headed into the local market for breakfast. We ordered 4 dishes between the two of us, took some back for the kids and stopped in at a local juice place for two shakes, all for only $5.75. The only time I will really spend any money is when I go into town to see friends and go out for drinks. Although my wife was nice enough to point out that there are about 5 KTV's in our local area. They're sort of hard to miss as they're the type with the girls sitting outside all wearing cocktail dresses. Kudos to my wife for pointing them out; what a woman!
My aforementioned friend who was in Sihanoukville with me prior decided to go back yesterday. He was absolutely crushing the games there and while he did come back up to Phnom Penh for a while, wasn't that impressed with any games here and decided to go back. I had just got an apartment down there just before I left and never really moved in to the new place. So my friend took over the lease as my current plans are to remain in Phnom Penh and just grind online. If he reports to me that the games are still too good, then I may be tempted to go back. Actually the games are most likely to still be good so I will return at some point. But for the moment I really wanted to be around more for the family and just relax for a while as I try to recover fully. I have managed to get out a few times to see some old friends, which was probably not the greatest idea seeing as how it probably set my recovery back a few days. But I'm hardly one to turn down drinks with friends, especially on the riverside.
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.