Anyone who has traveled overland from Siem Reap to Bangkok will know that their forced stop over in the Cambodian and Thailand border towns Poipet & Aranyaprathet, will definitely not make the highlight reel of his or her travels.
They are only two reasons to travel to these towns the first is to pass through Thai and Cambodian immigration and the second is gamble. So with reason one complete and four-hour layover between my connecting mini-van to Bangkok, I decided to experience reason two.
Walking into ‘Poipet Crown Casino’ your first impression is nothing similar to what most would expect from a large international casino. The carpet is stained and stretched, the paint on the walls is fading and the smell of stale smoke permeates throughout the poorly ventilated building.
After passing through the main entrance all patrons are directed to an airport style security scan and given a free locker to hold any bags or jackets. The scene inside is typical of most Asian casino’s with the majority of casino employees (excluding the security) being young attractive women wearing low cut tops and high cut skirts. The average punter is middle-aged Asian man with drag clothing and an attitude of indifference to whether the cards are dealt his or the houses way.
The casino itself operates in what is internationally termed ‘no-mans land’, a thin demarcation between both countries that is void of jurisdiction. This allows Thai nationals to avoid Thai laws that ban casinos gambling and visa versa for Cambodian nationals.
Along with your average punters there is also a high rollers section of the casino where traditionally the wealthy and the glamorous would go. However here it appears it is where the corrupt and the colourful will be found placing large even bets. With the clear attempt to turn over large sums of money, via placing even chance bets (think $1000 on red and $1000 on black).
It doesn’t take long of watching to figure our the process for money laundering, and it appears incredibly simple. When entering the casino there is no need to show ID or provide any form of documentation when exchanging currency for chips. The most common games are baccarat, roulette and Chinese poker otherwise known as Pai Gow. All players at the table seem on first name terms with both each other and the dealers and pit bosses.
After a few hours have passed an the original bankroll has been turned over, players will then proceed to cash out their chips. The key here is if the player has originally paid for chips in Thai Baht, they will now be able eligible to cash out with US Dollar. The casino will also provide a receipt outlining the players’ cashed out amount; hence these funds are now deemed genuine ‘winnings’.
The casino themselves appear to be making money in two ways. First, is the large house advantage they implement on games and second, is the shocking exchange rate offered between currencies. The day I was there the casinos offered was 31Baht for 1 US Dollar; the official rate was 33Baht for 1 US Dollar. Something that may not sound like a lot, but spread over thousands of dollars adds up significantly.
Exiting the casino and stepping back onto the hot and dusty road that connects the two border towns, I join the streams of tired and confused tourists dragging along luggage completely unaware of the underbelly they’re passing by.
My final thought that came to mind as my van pulled away from the border is that instead of people exploring Angkor Wat in the next 1000years it may well be the long lost casinos they come for.
Next stop: Bangkok