A Chinese casino empire to rival Macau is investing big in Cambodia, transforming a once-sleepy seaside town into a hub for gangsters and shady operators.
Money is pouring into Sihanoukville, as thousands of workers labour day and night, building soaring skyscrapers at break-neck speed.
“It’s positioning to be the Las Vegas of the East,” says Chinese businessman, Wang Zhi Lang. “There are many who get rich overnight, so that attracts many Chinese investors here.”
The chance to make fast money is not only attracting investors. It’s also drawing Chinese cartels notorious for their violence and sparked fears that crime has become rampant in the city, particularly money laundering.
Casino operators say the booming industry is creating thousands of jobs in Sihanoukville, but 101 East finds evidence of underage workers and exploitation.
A croupier who works 12-hour shifts, six nights a week, says she got a job in a casino when she was just 15.
As homes are demolished and roads collapse under the weight of construction, resentment among locals is growing.
Rith Chenda, a local tuk-tuk driver, makes more money now than he ever did before, but says he can no longer afford to rent a room because of soaring property prices. He now sleeps in his tuk-tuk.
“People here don’t really like it,” he says. “Our society has changed. Everywhere you look there are casinos. I am not happy.”
Featuring rare access inside one of the city’s major casinos, 101 East investigates the growing criminal underbelly of Cambodia’s casino boom.