Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said that he regarded gambling of all kinds to be a “social cancer” which could spread through society causing ever greater harm if there is no timely action to cut it out and that the deterioration of society will inevitably lead to increased social injustices.

Sar Kheng led an anti-human trafficking meeting on September 19 with numerous relevant officials in attendance, during which he vowed to combat human trafficking and illegal gambling, which he said go hand-in-hand with labour exploitation, organised crime and online fraud schemes.

“Gambling is one of the root and original causes of social problems. If we don’t deal with it, it will spread even further and wider, which will make it increasingly complicated to solve,” he said in remarks to the media after the meeting.

To deal with this issue, he said the government’s plan is to find the victims and rescue them as a first priority and then crack down on all illegal gambling to put the operators out of business and then bring the responsible persons to face justice in the courts.

He also instructed officials in charge of processing documentation for foreign nationals to do their jobs thoroughly and make sure that their passports, visas and work permits are all in order.

The stricter scrutiny isn’t being carried out to punish people for infractions, he said, rather it’s necessary because foreigners without proper documents are easy targets for extortion and labour exploitation.

“There are foreigners who entered Cambodia illegally and then subsequently suffered torture and violence at the hands of gangs and organised crime groups. That’s the reason the government is clamping down on illegal gambling.

“This is our chance to stop the ‘fire from spreading to other houses’ or to ‘stop the disease from infecting the entire body’,” Sar Kheng said, speaking figuratively.

He also instructed that capital and provincial authorities to combat every kind of illegal gambling, no matter whether it is happening in the real world or through online portals.

“We’ll crack down on illegal gambling based on the laws already in force. We must do this work carefully, not arbitrarily,” he said.

Provincial governors are already taking action: In Kampong Chhnang province, Governor Sun Sovannarith warned all of his officials that he would fire anyone who failed to carry out the orders to combat these crimes at any location that fell under their authority.

“There have been some noodle restaurants and cafes where they sell lottery tickets and even take bets for online cockfighting. All of these must be wiped out, starting today. If it is still happening anywhere then we’ll consider the commune officials, commune police and the district chief and police – and also the deputy governor in charge of that location – as the parties who are ultimately responsible,” he said in a meeting on September 19.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for rights group Licadho, said that the government’s actions this time were being done on a large-scale in what appeared to be an “unprecedented” campaign against illegal gambling.

“We have laws that clearly define these businesses as illegal and we only have to enforce them consistently. And, especially, all officials must stay away from personal involvement in gambling as businessmen or customers to make this campaign successful,” he said.