Dreams of wealth are as common here as they are anywhere. And in countries where
gambling is allowed, there are plenty of people who believe the key to fantastic
wealth is sometimes revealed in dreams.
Punterís dream ñ the right numbers and a fistful of riel.
Acting on such slumber-induced
tip-offs is regarded by many people here as common sense, not least when playing
the increasingly popular numbers game, kontuy lak. The past few years has seen a
growing number of the gaming stalls lining the streets of Phnom Penh.
way it works is simple: guess what numbers will come out of the daily draw,
place your bet, then check back later to see if you have won. For those who feel
they have dreamed the solution it is somewhat simpler: recall the numbers your
snooze revealed, then use those.
As with any gambling enterprise, the
clear winners are the lottery companies - in Phnom Penh's case almost 20 of
them. The stallholders' boards carry advertisements for different draws: Phnom
Penh Lottery, Vietnam Lottery, the Cambodia Lottery Corporation are just a few
of those displayed.
One stallholder explains that those looking for luck
can buy a ticket with either two, three or four numbers.
numbers are drawn by the lottery company, two correct numbers bought for 100
riel will win you 7,000 riel," she says. "Three correct numbers will get you
And hope, as always, springs eternal. One punter, a motodup
who identified himself only as Sin, says he spends between 5-10,000 riel each
day on kontuy lak in his bid to get rich. His ten friends also gamble their
wages on a daily basis.
The fact that he is still a motodup and his
friends haven't yet retired and moved to Tuol Kork indicate that their numbers
haven't yet come up. But Sin and his friends don't blame that on a possible
rigging of results by the lottery company.
"It is normal to play kontuy
lak - our ambitions are to get back more money than we put in," he says. Sin
applies an old Khmer proverb to his risky - and so far, luckless - venture:
"When you win at gambling, you have a smile on your face, but when you lose, you
So just how does it all work? Phnom Penh's deputy governor,
Seng Tong, says at least 18 companies currently hold licenses, which are awarded
by the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), to operate a lottery.
though, haven't actually set up a lottery. Although many of the companies are
registered as Cambodian-owned, most are financed by foreigners.
countries' citizens are behind the rise in the number of gaming businesses? An
MEF official, speaking anonymously, says they come from Malaysia and
Still waiting to win big ó motodup Sin lays out yet another wad of hard-earned cash at a kontuy lak table in Phnom Penh. The city has around 18 companies licensed to operate lotteries.
Each company's license is valid for 25 years, and they are meant
to pay out 50 percent of their income in prize money. But in a country as poorly
regulated as Cambodia, the risk is that actual payouts are far below that
Certainly that is the perception among several of the punters to
whom the Post spoke - they complained that they seldom, if ever, saw their
guesses translated into cash.
But then again, it is a high-risk
past-time. And while plenty of gamblers are worried about their spectacular lack
of success, others are concerned at the spreading popularity of gambling itself.
Heav Veasna, managing director of the Center for Social Development (CSD), says
any type of gambling poses problems for society.
In short, he says,
gambling poisons the country. He feels the government should not allow lottery
companies to operate as legal businesses. And although there are no official
statistics available, he estimates that 90 percent of the population indulge in
Veasna says there are precepts in Khmer society that warn
against it. He quotes a poem from a famous 19th century writer, Ngoy, who wrote
a piece called the Krom Ngoy, or Ngoy's Code. In that, he warns all Cambodian
people to avoid three types of obsession.
The first is obsession with
women, the second with drinking, and the third with gambling. The code states
that these ills are of the very worst order, and must be avoided. They make
people careless, lose their intelligence, neglect their lives, and stop them
from performing good deeds and charitable acts.
Its popularity in the
face of such proscriptions, says Veasna, shows that gambling is the last refuge
of the desperate.
"In my opinion, when people have work, they won't
bother with gambling," he says. "When gambling is so widespread in our society
it is useless to establish a law on domestic violence - this is an issue that
creates domestic violence."
Veasna is not alone in fearing for society if
gambling continues its rise in popularity. Funcinpec MP Keo Remy also feels it
has gained a massive following in recent years, particularly in Phnom
"And it is not just the lottery that has seen an increase - there
is more gambling on football too," he says. "If controls are lacking, society
will not have peace."
But for all the grumblings of the moralists, the
fact remains that people are still wagering their hard-earned cash on a game of
chance that has a minuscule chance of success.
And that's good news for
the likes of 34-year-old Phon Sok Lim. She is one of more than 100 roadside
lottery vendors with a rickety table on Phnom Penh's Kampuchea Krom Boulevard
taking money off those who dream up the right numbers.
says, is good.
"It is easy job - I just set up with a table, a chair, and
a blackboard advertising which lottery I sell for," she says. "Then I need only
sit down and make a list of the people who come to buy their numbers, and the
company pays me commission."
Sok Lim concurs with Veasna and Keo Remy
that more and more people are playing the numbers game, but she sees that as an
opportunity, not a threat. After all it has given her the chance to sell them
tickets and earn a living.
Over the past two years her turnover has
increased from around 20,000 riel ($5) a day to ten times that amount today. Her
cut is 10 percent, which gives her a living wage.
"The lottery is good
for the sellers like me, because we can make an income, but the buyers generally
lose money," she points out. "I don't think the lottery will help to make anyone