The Bokor Palace hotel in Bokor Hill station near the town of Kampot, Cambodia, in 2015 before renovations. Photo: iStock
The Bokor Palace hotel in Bokor Hill station near the town of Kampot, Cambodia, in 2015 before renovations. Photo: iStock

The arrival of increasing numbers of Chinese tourists and investors in Southeast Asia has led to a boom in the construction of casinos in countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported on Sept. 16 that an 18,000-hectare casino resort will be built on Bokor mountain in Cambodia, in addition to the two casinos that are already there, and 22 small and big casinos in the port city of Sihanoukville, the heart of Chinese investment in Cambodia and an important link in China’s planned Belt and Road Initiative.

Located in the hills above Kampot, Bokor is where the French colonials went to avoid the heat during Cambodia’s pre-1953 colonial period. Some of the old buildings have been renovated and one was reopened earlier this year as a hotel and casino under the name Le Bokor Palace.

The renovated French colonial Bokor Palace hotel and casino on Bokor mountain, Cambodia. Photo: Supplied

The Holiday Palace Casino in Sihanoukville has more than 200 gaming machines, baccarat tables and roulette.

The planned casino resort in Bokor will be grander than anything that Cambodia has seen before. According to the BBC, “casinos are tapping into the demand among Chinese players for face-to-face and online play, both of which are banned at home.”

In the Myanmar town of Myawady opposite Mae Sot in Thailand, new casino complexes offer not only gambling but also duty-free liquor, cigarettes and perfume, but not in Myanmar kyats. Only Thai baht are accepted.

There are more casinos, specializing in online gambling, in areas controlled by local militias on the Chinese border. Laos has three main casinos, one at the Nam Ngum Resort north of the capital Vientiane, another at the Golden Triangle where the borders of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar intersect, and the third in Savannakhet in the south.

Most of the gamblers come from China, Thailand and Malaysia. Locals are not allowed.

The casino boom has driven up land prices in the areas where new gambling houses are being built, forcing smaller guesthouses to close and keeping many Western tourists away, which has affected small business owners. The Chinese prefer to stay in luxury hotels, eat there and use hotel cars rather than local transport.