Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Lao government has opened its doors to Chinese businessmen, increasingly interested in investing in the country in the field of gambling. So much so that recently, some foreign government officials - particularly from neighboring Thailand - accused the government of "bowing to pressure" of businessmen from Beijing and allowing impunity for the "wild development " of casinos throughout the country. Vientiane, by contrast, sees the turnover as a major source of income for a country which still lags behind in development and is among the poorest in Southeast Asia. However, critics say the industry has fuelled financial crime and encourages the spread of organized crime.
The majority of investors in the field of gambling in Laos are from China, which is charged with having used economic pressure to get the go-ahead to the construction of new casinos in the country. Among the many recent examples, the opening in September of Dok Champa slot machines in a suburb of the capital, even if the majority is concentrated in the border areas with China and Thailand, where there are also three large casinos with different solutions for gamblers.
The main problem is the infiltration of the criminal underworld which exploits the casinos for money laundering. A Chinese owned gambling house was closed last year, following repeated complaints of ill repute. However, social controversies and alleged links with mafia organizations have not prevented the proliferation of visitors especially from abroad, the majority of bettors and gamblers come from Thailand, China and other countries where this practice is "strictly prohibited."
The vast majority of casinos - except a Malaysian owned one near the border with Vietnam, - are in the hands of Chinese companies, which operate in conjunction with the Laotian government and (in at least two cases) were built in special tax free areas. Although Vientiane promote campaigns against gambling because of its "social evils" and crimes that occur within the casinos - including money laundering, murder, kidnapping, prostitution and drug trafficking - in reality is quite happy to take advantage of the profits produced by the million dollar business which attracts a steady flow of tourists.