Another hopeful client places a wager on a football game at an open sidewalk betting counter on Street 53, Phnom Penh. Some students offer their motorcycles as collateral, bookies say.
The mass public gambling prompted by last summer's Euro 2000 competition has fostered
an illegal international football betting industry that is causing increasing concern
to Phnom Penh municipal officials.
Municipal Governor Chea Sophara on January 26 issued a letter ordering Khan Daun
Penh police to close down two illegal football betting parlors south of Phnom Penh's
Sophara remains resolute in his avowed commitment to root out the city's football
betting industry, blaming it for "social disorder" and for obstructing
the studies of Cambodian high school students.
"I will crack down on them one by one," Sophara said of the future of the
city's illegal betting venues.
Gambling addiction among high school students was causing many to lose their motorcycles
to cover gambling debts and prompting others to leave home for fear of the wrath
of their parents, Sophara said.
But in spite of the best intentions of municipal police, football betting parlors
are continuing to spring up in market areas around the city, packing in punters who
come to watch the thrice- weekly televised games.
Daun Penh district criminal policeman Nhem Sao Nol is in the eye of the storm of
Phnom Penh's illegal football betting industry.
According to Sao Nol, Street 53 south of the central market where illegal betting
shops proliferate is now "out of the police's control" and that the number
of punters is growing steadily.
"Some places receive bets of up to $1,000 a day," Sao Nol said. Our investigations
have uncovered that football gamblers are mostly students whose families are rich.
[Gambling causes them to] lose motorbikes and steal their parents' money."
Street 53 football bookmaker "Try" said he started in the football betting
business three months ago
From his predominantly young clientele male gamblers between the ages of 18 - 25,
Try says he extracts between 10,000 riel and $20 a bet.
For prospective gamblers fearful of being caught in a police raid, Try has thoughtfully
established a telephone betting line service that allows people to put down their
money without leaving home.
"People like football gambling because it's a fair game [and] they want to watch
the game for entertainment," Try said of the popularity behind his industry.
"I think soccer gambling is not a major problem because it is also very popular
in other parts of the world."
Try acknowledged that gambling students unable to make good on their debts or those
without cash to lay down on a game did offer motorcycles as collateral, but he denied
ever accepting any such offers.
"Sometimes students come and bet their motorbikes, but I don't accept them [because]
I am afraid their parents will complain to the police," he said.
Neighboring bookie Tang Kong, 22, said he receives $200 worth of bets a day. He started
the business three weeks ago, issuing football bet receipts in a room inside a street
level flat. Most of his customers are youths, some betting from $10 to $20.
Kong says that being a football bet bookie has not been a road to riches, as he frequently
loses all the money he makes in a day on bets he himself places with other bookies.
"I like Italian and English teams," Kong said dreamily as he monitored
a late night game televised on a small television set in his office.
"David Beckham is my favorite star... he kicks the football beautifully."
Another gambler, Mar Sokha, said he first caught the football gambling bug during
the Euro 2000 competitions. ..
Although he confesses that his first bet laid on the match between Yugoslavia and
Slovenia lost him $80, he remains enthusiastic about the game and the potential winnings
from gambling on it.
Sokha laments the recent crackdown on football gambling, speaking fondly of when
bookmakers used to place their tables along the street and post the football match
schedule in front of their offices. Now bookies have been forced to operate more
discretely, he said.
"I wonder why we are not allowed to gamble on football games, but we are allowed
to play Vietnamese and Cambodian lotteries?" Sokha said. "Why don't the
police arrest [lottery bookies]. We just bet with small change."
For football enthusiast Prom Sovannak, 32, betting on football games is a much-needed
motivation to stay up and watch the late-night televised games.
"Putting a few dollars on a football game encourages me to stay up late at night
to watch the game," he said, his eyes not straying from the fuzzy image on the
nearby television screen.