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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lotteries flourish in pursuit of easy money

Lotteries flourish in pursuit of easy money


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.

The

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.

"Assuming those

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

60,000 riel."

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

grimace."

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.

Most,

though, haven't actually set up a lottery. Although many of the companies are

registered as Cambodian-owned, most are financed by foreigners.

So which

countries' citizens are behind the rise in the number of gaming businesses? An

MEF official, speaking anonymously, says they come from Malaysia and

Taiwan.

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

level.

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

the habit.

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

Penh.

"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.

Business, she

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

rich."

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