Vietnamese students conned at casinos in Cambodia

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Lured into gambling across the border where they are forced into debt, many Vietnamese students then drop out of school and make their friends the newest victims

Las Vegas Sun casino in Cambodia, not far from the border with Vietnam. Many students in Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc provinces to the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City have been lured to Cambodian casinos, including the Las Vegas Sun, where they were forced into debt and held for ransom. PHOTO: DO TRUONG 

Students from the southern provinces of Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc have been cheated into debt at Cambodian casinos, and some have even been held for ransom, according to local police.

Nguyen Thanh Khiem, vice chief police of Ben Cat District in Binh Duong, said his agency have detected many suspected brokers.

"The problem is that many of them who have been cheated by similar scams have now turned to lure their friends into the casino cons," he said.

Local media have reported on Vietnamese youngsters being tricked at Cambodian casinos for years, but the problem has become worse due to an increase in the number of casinos just across the border. They have been built to attract Vietnamese gamblers.

Gambling is illegal for locals in Vietnam.

Many students in Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc said they'd been to casinos in Cambodia located just across the border with Tay Ninh Province.

Tay Ninh is 100 kilometers to the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. Binh Duong, located 30 kilometers north of HCMC, is adjacent to Binh Phuoc.

In Tay Ninh, there are hundreds of xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers who are actually brokers for the casinos. They take local gamblers across the border illegally.

A broker operating near Tay Ninh's Moc Bai Border Gate, who wanted to be identified only as B., said many students have "mortgaged their lives" to borrow money from loan sharks after losing at the casinos.

"People are crossing the border everyday to pay ransoms for their children. We know well because we take them there," he said.

Tay Ninh official statistics showed that between 150-200 Vietnamese people cross the province's border gates to gamble in Cambodia every day and the number surges to 500-600 on weekends. The number of illegal crossings is believed to be higher.

Tay Ninh has four border gates with Cambodia, including Xa Mat, Moc Bai, Phuoc Tan and Phuoc Chi. Across the province's border are 21 casinos and four cock fighting rings.

Gambling trap

The brokers often lure victims with special promotions offered by casinos like reimbursement of border crossing fees, free meals and a gift of US$100 for gambling.

Virtually all gamblers lose and there are always lenders ready to lend out money as if they do not need anything to ensure future payment.

Students find out the hard way that most lenders are just loan sharks trying to prey on their parents for ransom.

Nguyen Thi Kim Diep said her daughter, tenth grader Nguyen Thi Quynh Nhu in Binh Phuoc's Dong Xoai Town, went to an amusement park in Binh Duong with her friends on April 5.

Later on that day, a man called her and said she was being held at a casino in Cambodia. He demanded a ransom.

"They asked for dozens of millions dong and threatened to sell her into trafficking if we did not pay," she said. "Finally they agreed on VND15 million ($715)." Vietnam's 2012 annual per capita income was $1,555.

However, Diep and her husband were asked to go to the border several times before finally being told to go to a border gate in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, where they got their daughter back after paying the ransom. It was April 20, more than two weeks after Nhu was abducted.

In another similar case, Tran Thi Thanh Tu, a ninth grader from Tan Lap Secondary School in Binh Phuoc's Dong Phu District, was released on April 12 after being held for eight days and her family paid VND15 million to some men on the border.

Many parents said they had not reported such incidents to police for fear that their children would be threatened or that their neighbors would learn of the incident, which could affect their children's schooling.

Dangerous friends

Worse still, many students duped into the scam have since dropped out of the school and began to lure their friends to the casinos for commission.

Last year, 13-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh of Binh Phuoc's Dong Phu District was lured by her close friend Hoang Minh Diep and several others to a casino in Cambodia. After losing money gambling, Anh was ordered to call her parents to pay a ransom of $3,000.

The people who held Anh agreed to lower the amount to VND15 million and learning that her family was poor and her parents both daily laborers.

Notably, Diep had been a victim of a similar scam and her family had to pay a ransom of VND35 million.

In the case of Pham Thi Anh Dao, a ninth grader at Tan Lap Secondary School in Dong Phu District, she was lured by two neighbors, Nguyen Cong Dien and Ngoc Anh.

"These friends first asked me to go to the Dai Nam Theme Park. After that, they asked me to go to Cambodia and they would pay for taxi," she said. "I agreed due to curiosity but later I was forced to gamble until I was in debt and was ordered to call my family for ransom."

A 50-year-old local from Binh Duong's Ben Cat District, who asked to be identified only as D., said his 14-year-old daughter Nguyen Thi Huong Giang had been lured by her friends to the casinos several times.

"Giang used to be a good student in 7th grade at the My Phuoc Secondary School. But she quit school to join the scam," he said. "There is a group of students who have quit school and work as brokers to lure other schoolgirls into the scam."

The principal of a secondary school in Ben Cat District, who wanted to remain anonymous, said many students have been victimized at Cambodian casinos. He recommended that parents take their children to and from school personally to avoid abductions.

"Of the many students we know who were lured to Cambodian casinos, only one has continued their studies," he said.

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