Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cambodian Casino Bankrupts Mekong Delta residents

Cambodian casino bankrupts Mekong Delta residents

The entrance to the Grand Dragon Resort in Cambodia.
Kiem, a Mekong Delta water-lily dealer, just lost all her money at the Grand Dragon Resort casino across the border in Cambodia.

She earns a living buying the plants at the border to resell in An Giang Province and the city of Can Tho. She was waiting to collect her goods at the border when some friends convinced her to visit the casino “just to try it.”

“But I left the casino without any money to continue my business,” she says. “It was terrible.”

The refrain is not uncommon among Vietnamese visitors to the casino just across the river from An Giang’s An Phu District.

Just ask any of the hotel owners or xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers near the Long Binh Border Gate, which leads to Cambodia’s Kandal Province.

A hotel owner in An Phu District says most gamblers come from Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho. She says they all leave bitterly after losing.

Gamblers crowd the roulette tables at a casino in the Grand Dragon Resort in Cambodia

She says she’s used to rich guests driving up in luxury cars only to leave with their heads down and less luggage.

“A woman from a nearby commune committed suicide recently after her husband piled up billions of dong in gambling debts,” she says.

Gamblers with passports can cross the border legally after a few simple procedures at the border gate, while it is also easy to cross the river-border illegally in small boats for just VND3,000 (US$0.17).

The casino at the Grand Dragon Resort is just a few meters from the riverbank while a number of xe om drivers are always ready to take gamblers to a cock-fighting ring two kilometers away.

Nguyen Van Son, a Vietnamese xe om driver operating near the casino, says his customers are always excited when the day begins, and universally disappointed when they return home.

He says five of his colleagues have lost their motorbikes – and thereby their livelihood – to gambling at the casino.

He points to a hawker peddling Vietnamese pancakes on the street. She used to be a rich woman before she lost it all to the casino, he says.

From losing to losing

Many Vietnamese inside and outside the casino appear to be doing nothing but hanging around after losing all their money.

Lap, a fish dealer from Vietnam, is reluctant to leave. She says she wants to watch other people play after losing more than VND1 million ($56.20) earlier in the day.

She says she knows the right time to stop and usually wins several million dong on visits to the casino.

So, what’s she doing now with no money?

She admits that she’s become addicted and that she lost more than she won on this particular day.

Outside the casino, pawnbrokers lay in wait, always willing to grant loans to gamblers who want to bet their luck on their belongings after losing all their money.

Vietnamese law prohibits Vietnamese citizens from gambling but allows hotels rated four-stars and above to operate casinos for people holding foreign passports.

Reported by Tien Trinh
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