Cambodia’s Skeleton Landscape Following Casino Exodus Set To Get a Makeover

A few years ago, the sleepy town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, awoke as it became an overnight target for casinos and online gaming platforms. It exited almost as quickly, leaving behind unfinished construction like strewn litter. As Cambodia works to clean up its image, it is preparing to make the town whole again.

Sihanoukville high rise
Sihanoukville high rise
A high-rise building in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, that investors abandoned without completing the construction. Cambodia is ready to tackle the issue of abandoned buildings, of which there are around 1,100 in the town. (Image: Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association)

Over 1,100 unfinished buildings have been plaguing the town for the last three years. They’re a reminder of failed investments, mainly from Chinese investors, that took over Sihanoukville as it tried to become a hub of gaming activity.

The Ministry of Economy and Finance recently organized a meeting with other government entities to discuss the issue and assess the current situation. It also wants to explore ways in which it can facilitate the completion of the construction as quickly as possible.

Cleaning Up The Debris

As a result of a ban on online gambling and shutdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, investors deserted the buildings. In addition to establishing online casino operations, investors came into town to set up residential and business complexes to support what they thought would be a bustling enterprise.

That didn’t happen, though. A large number of structures sit as skeletons on land the investors leased from Cambodian owners. The unfinished construction is a blight on the coastal city’s image, hindering its ability to attract tourism.

Long Dimanche, the Deputy Governor of the Preah Sihanouk province and the administration’s spokesperson, confirmed the plans on Facebook. He indicated that authorities are preparing an incentive package to help restart the stalled projects.

In order to prepare an action plan, the local government will soon begin selecting unfinished buildings with an investment of at least $1 million. All the entities that attended the meeting provided their input on how to make that happen and develop a successful solution.

The government was also under pressure recently from a number of public sectors. They pressured it to take measures to deal with the issue and put Sihanoukville back together.

They and the international community have been demanding change on various levels. After Cambodia outlawed online casino operations, rogue companies took their activity underground, which only made the problem worse.

Now, criminal organizations resorted to kidnapping, human trafficking and torture to run their operations. Cambodian authorities have begun tackling the issue and recently made significant progress.

Chinese Not Welcome

Cambodian Institute of International Relations Director General Kin Phea highlighted the damage the failed investments caused. In an interview with Khmer Times, he explained that the debacle had impacted Cambodians’ perception of Chinese companies. In addition, he suggested that the Cambodian government increase its law enforcement operations in the area.

He even called on China to accept responsibility for the failures. Kin said that both the Chinese and Cambodian governments need to create a bilateral plan that would see all of the buildings completed.

The Country Director of real estate company IPS Cambodia, Adam Fitzpatrick, sees a bright outcome, as well. He told the Khmer Times that it’s a big challenge to address the problem. However, the effort on the part of the government is “quite encouraging.”

Cambodia will likely transform Sihanoukville into a Special Economic Zone, provided it can put all of the pieces in place. Global Real Estate Association (GRA) President Vicht Lor said that the city’s position as a deep sea port is a major plus. He added, like Fitzpatrick and Kin, that the government’s willingness to address the construction is a big step forward.

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