Poker in Cambodia is alive and well. For the past few months, the coastal city of Sihanoukville has seen impressive growth with new casinos opening up and a handful of poker rooms alongside. This quick-fire development is largely due to the huge influx of Chinese nationals populating the beach town. Visitors flood the venues, eager to test their skills at many of the casino games offered, especially at the poker tables.
On March 2nd, Riverking became the newest poker room at the scene, opening up Riverking Bao Mai. This is the brand’s second room in the country with the first one at Phnom Penh. After the grand opening celebration, Somuchpoker had the opportunity to correspond with Riverking manager, Michael Kim, to discuss their recent expansion and the current state of poker in the country.
Somuchpoker: Can you introduce yourself and your journey in the poker industry?
Michael Kim: Like many others, I started to play poker shortly after the boom in 2003. I wasn’t that particularly that great of a player, but back then you didn’t need to be. During the initial years I ran two private games in Los Angeles before moving out to Vegas to grind full time in 2005. The first three years were a blast; the last three not so much. So I set my eyes elsewhere and searched for a place where I could play live poker, live cheaply and “meet” women. Never having really been anywhere, I made Cambodia the very first stamp on my passport and arrived four years ago. I started out as a player at the Riverking and ultimately became the general manager in 2016. And somewhere in between all that I met my Cambodian girlfriend and had a daughter with another one on the way.
SMP: Can you give us a brief overview of the current poker scene in Sihanoukeville? (Poker rooms / Casinos…)
MK: The poker scene in Sihanoukville has changed quite a bit in a short amount of time. When I lived here not more than 1 1/2 years ago, rooms were struggling to get $1-$2 games going as mostly only $1-$1 hold’em ran. With a recent growth in the Chinese population more and more casinos have been built and with that a handful of poker rooms became over ten separate games running throughout the city. With this change in demographic, there are more new players and more money in the poker economy.
SMP: How would you compare the poker scene in Sihanoukeville vs the one Phnom Penh?
MK: While there are still plenty of good games in Phnom Penh, the poker scene in the capital is certainly more mature. Players all know each other for the most part and at times it can be more of a social affair to play than anything else. We play all day, but we also play all night as the nightlife in Phnom Penh is unrivaled in this country. On the other hand, Sihanoukville is like any other town that has newly discovered poker. Players are just getting into it for the first time and the level of play hasn’t quite developed yet. These sort of circumstances can make for very interesting games and casinos have sought to capitalize on this by building more and more poker rooms.
SMP: Why did you decide to open your poker room in this location?
MK: The owner of the Riverking Phnom Penh was the founder of the first premier poker room in Sihanoukville at Queenco Hotel & Casino. So we’re certainly familiar with poker in the beach city and have had an interest in the town for quite some time. But not having found the right partners we put any potential venture on hold until we were approached by a group representing the Bao Mai Resort & Casino. The owner of the resort and his group are sparing no expense and effort to help us launch this room. They are throwing us an epic pool party on opening night and with 160 rooms in the resort at near capacity with Chinese clientele on most nights, the partnership seemed like a perfect pairing.
SMP: Can you give us an overview of what players can expect from your new venue?
MK: What poker players can expect from Riverking Sihanoukville is a fun place to not only play poker, but to hang out and be part of a true community. When I first arrived in Cambodia four years ago, it was the very first stamp on my passport and I did not know a soul or a single thing about the country. And since then there hasn’t been a single friend in Cambodia that I haven’t made through the poker room. Every phone that I have ever purchased, every apartment rented and every great restaurant visited has been with the help of fellow players in the room. We try to be all things to all people, in helping them not only feel comfortable in the poker room but also in the city and country at large. This environment and atmosphere is what we hope to achieve in Sihanoukville as we have in Phnom Penh.
SMP: How do you plan to make a difference with the competition?
MK: Since the poker scene in Sihanoukville is so new, things here are often compared to the wild west. The Riverking was sought out because we have years of poker room management within our team and we know how to run a room with professionalism and order while maintaining the fun and action that should be part of any poker game. No matter how good a table is, players always want to be ensured that the integrity of the game is maintained and that at the end of the day all players are treated equally. There are many games in Sihanoukville currently in which foreigners are not even allowed to play. It’s not all that dissimilar to challenges we’ve had in Phnom Penh. We’ve had great success in running a room in which people of various backgrounds not only coexist, but have a great time playing with and against one another. At the end of the day what sets us apart from other poker rooms is that we believe in a great experience for all, not just for some.
SMP: Are you planning to host major events / tournaments?
MK: Major poker events are the hallmarks of a premier property in a given city. And with Bao Mai’s reputation and place among the venues in Sihanoukville, I would think it fitting that a major event be hosted here. Bao Mai will soon undertake a major renovation that will double the property’s already impressive size. And with the experience the owner of the Riverking already has in bringing the first Asian Poker Tour to Cambodia, once again the pairing seems perfect in making a well run event in Cambodia a reality once again.