The Ministry of Finance announcement last month that football betting juggernaut
CamboSix had won another four-year monopoly for sports gambling in Cambodia,
seems to indicate a sure bet the gaming giant will be extending its gambling
For one thing, the company retained its legal authority to
conduct Internet football wagering - an industry reportedly worth $12 billion
worldwide last year.
Asian gambling expert Ted Loh has told the Post
that the revenue generated by CamboSix's online gambling will far exceed the
profits from the 21 betting parlors stationed across Phnom Penh. Loh believes
the biggest profits may be coming from outside the country. And a source close
to football in Cambodia says CamboSix could already be making as much as $20
million each month.
"It's entirely possible [$20 million per month].
Football betting, online or off, is a massive industry. Some Asian countries
alone bet more on one match than all of Europe combined - really the rest of the
world combined," said Loh, gambling analyst and owner of consulting group Orient
Gaming. "CamboSix is just one of hundreds of bookmaking operations throughout
Asia, although obviously licensed by the Cambodian government. If anything,
CamboSix probably gets more action from Vietnam, and possibly Thailand, than it
does from within Cambodia."
Loh said operators of gambling websites view
Southeast Asia as the "promised land." Widespread gambling prohibitions in the
region have created a vast pool of pent-up demand, he said, and countries with
lax legal systems and underdeveloped telecommunications monitors are the perfect
place to provide what has become a borderless, around-the-clock pursuit.
"Internet gambling is quickly ... spreading across the Far East,
bringing with it games that never end, rules that are very much in flux and, for
those who would provide it to the masses, stakes best-suited to players with
near-bottomless pockets," wrote gambling expert Mark Bruner in Internet gaming
So Khun, Minister of Post and Telecommunications, told the Post
on March 6 that there are no laws on the Internet because the draft law on
telecommunications has yet to be passed.
"We don't know about football
betting through websites, maybe some companies have received licenses from other
authorities," he said. "The government's policy so far has been to give licenses
for the Internet industry based on the requests of
CamboSix, which opened as Royal Cambodia Goals Co Ltd by
the CamboSix Investment Group in 2002, now has 21 betting shops in Phnom Penh
and one in Sihanoukville. Football gamblers can place bets over the phone or
Internet within the country, but outside Cambodia, especially in Vietnam and
Thailand where gambling is illegal, the system is murky and, as yet,
unmonitored. According to Loh, there are no fixed regulations on online gaming
"It is a good question about who is regulating the process of
betting through the Internet. But I don't know about this issue," said Chea Peng
Chheang, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance on March 6.
"But the ministry will take it into account and consider the issue. Right now we
are not clear."
CamboSix general manager Nancy Chau and administrative
manager Heng Say did not return phone calls or messages on the subject of
cross-border online gambling. But visits to several CamboSix outlets in Phnom
Penh revealed that employees are already addressing the issue in different ways.
At one shop, betting through CamboSix while outside Cambodia required
the purchase for $50 of a user name and password, necessary to access the
wagering site - then a minimum deposit of another $50. But a CamboSix staff
member said deposits are usually more than $1,000. Winnings are paid through
bank accounts; losses are deducted from the deposit. No credit card is
necessary. The employee specifically said the system could be used anywhere,
including the United States, where online gaming is illegal.
CamboSix headquarters on Sihanouk Boulevard, an employee reiterated the process,
but added a caveat.
"You can bet from Vietnam, but you can't sell your
account to anyone . If you sell your password it's illegal," said the staff
member. "Just bet on your own so nobody knows."
Loh explained that
CamboSix is more attractive than foreign betting operations because it provides
the best odds and betting opportunities. He detailed a system of payment based
on a time-honored Chinese tradition in which a third party accepts cash for the
"What you're talking about is essentially a system of
agents traditionally used throughout Asia. A bookmaker usually has a network of
agents, subagents, etc," he said.
"Think of a pyramid structure: where he
will lend credit to his top tier of agents, who then extend part of that credit
to their subagents and funds must be settled on a regular basis - usually once
or twice a week. Cambodia is no different from any other gambling operation in
Asia, even including casino gambling in Macau."
The boom in Internet
football betting has civil society leaders and the opposition repeating
longstanding concerns about CamboSix's relationship with the ruling party, its
perceived lack of adequate taxation, and gambling's negative impact on society.
"This was not a transparent process; CamboSix was relicensed and was the
only company truly considered. This is about corrupt officials. The one who gets
bribed the most gets the monopoly," said Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son
Chhay, who estimates that CamboSix makes at least $30 million per year, and pays
only 2 to 3 percent of its earnings in taxes. "Think about it: this is a
supposedly free market economy where the government can award a monopoly? There
is no government system in place to control the cash flow. To operate a business
of this size you must be close to the ruling CPP."
Peng Chheang told
local media on February 27 that Prime Minister Hun Sen awarded the exclusive
contract to CamboSix after the company paid $1 million to the government. Peng
Chheang said the company agreed to an increase in its taxation, but he could not
remember how much. This came just weeks after the government opened the bidding
process with an asking price of $2 million annually for the concession. Peng
Chheang said there was only one other player in the concession bidding, and on
March 7 he could not recall the name or nationality.
In the past, Peng
Chheang has said that CamboSix contributes $300,000 to the national budget each
year, but again could not recall the exact figure.