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On riverside, boats and betting

People gather around a television to watch the Water Festival’s boat races inside the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port
People gather around a television to watch the Water Festival’s boat races inside the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port yesterday afternoon. Heng Chivoan

On riverside, boats and betting

The return of the Water Festival has brought with it more than just Cambodia’s love for ornate boats and competitive racing – it has also attracted gamblers.

Inside the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) there are about 10 temporary shelters lined up next to each other. Here, the race fixture is posted on every wall, the televisions are turned up loud, and cash is changing hands as quickly as the boatmen are paddling.

“It is just for fun to make the racing more interesting,” said Chun Sengleab, 36, said laughing. “I just want to show my support to the boats that I love and when I win money, it shows I have a good eye for seeing the quality of the boat.”

After just seven wagers yesterday afternoon, Sengleab had won more than $150.

He’s not alone. The temporary refuge, which houses the boat racers during the three-day festival, was swarming with people, all gambling on their favourite boats. Bets ranged from $10 up to $25.

But for Chhern Dimanche, a 31-year-old originally from Kampong Cham, the wager did not pay off, and he was down.

“I don’t regret losing the money, I’m just not happy that our boat [from my village] did not win,” said Dimanche, adding that he bet the same boat on Wednesday and won $75.

“We will wait and see what will happen [today], and we will continue to bet to show our support to the boat.”

Gambling on the festival is popular with everyone, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. In a speech on October 9, Hun Sen said he would be willing to bet on his boat beating his Deputy Prime Minister Sok An’s in a head-to-head race.

But government spokesman Phay Siphan said he was unaware of any wagers going on between Cambodia’s high-ranking politicians.

“I think it is a traditional sport, and we all know Samdech loves the traditional games of our customs,” he said.

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