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Gamblers ready for kick-off

World Cup advertising stands in front of a sports bar in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district
World Cup advertising stands in front of a sports bar in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district on Monday. Hong Menea

Gamblers ready for kick-off

With the World Cup set to kick off in Brazil today, gamblers in Phnom Penh are preparing to place their bets, while city authorities are warning that unauthorised wagers will not be tolerated.

Dara*, a seasoned gambler who regularly bets on football matches, told the Post that he has signed up to an online gambling website to place his World Cup bets.

“I have just called my broker to ask for an account to play online.… I paid the broker $10 to get an account and password to log in and out for betting on the World Cup,” he said.

“Once we’ve created the account, we can gamble online and when we win, we call our broker to pay us the money.”

Dara, who refused to disclose any details about his broker, said the illegal system is based on “trust”.

“The authorities will not be able to crack down [on this] easily because most of the players will lay their wagers online with their smartphones,” he said.

According to the Law on the Suppression of Gambling, which was adopted by the National Assembly in 1996, “gambling of all kinds, in all places throughout the whole Kingdom of Cambodia, shall be strictly prohibited, except those permitted by the Royal government”.

Casinos are exceptions to the gambling law, and until the government ordered its closure several years ago, betting firm Cambo Six operated with a government licence.

Despite the law’s strong wording, other kinds of gambling have also been popular.

After recent similar crackdowns on football and online betting, 67 people were arrested last year in a coordinated bust across three locations for their involvement in an illegal virtual football gambling ring.

Choun Narin, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, said that gambling will not be tolerated outside of casinos.

“If they are betting for money outside of the casinos, this is illegal and our police will crack down,” he said yesterday.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche agreed.

“We told district authorities to inform the owners of internet cafes not to allow their customers to lay wagers in their shops. If [they] do not respect the order, we will close their business,” he added.

But at an internet cafe in Phnom Penh this week, football fans told the Post they were preparing to place their bets.

Twenty-two-year-old Ly said he paid $1 to sign up to an online bookmaker last week, but is waiting until after the first 16 matches before betting on the winner.

“I will bet only $1, but if I win I will get 2 million riel [about $500],” he said, perhaps misunderstanding the odds. “At the moment I think Brazil and Germany have the strongest chance to reach the final,” he added.

While Ly is planning to bet only small amounts of money, he said he fears that others will steal to support their gambling during the tournament.

“I’m worried about robberies increasing during the World Cup from losers who need to get money to pay off their debts.”

Thirty-three-year-old Sokha, who has been gambling for more than five years, is versed in placing big bets that he can’t afford.

“I lost my car because of gambling, but I lied to my parents that it was stolen,” he said. “I know that no one gets rich by gambling, but I like to do it.”

Since an outlet of an international sports betting company opened up in NagaWorld – Phnom Penh’s only licensed casino – Sokha has been a regular customer.

“Almost every day, I come here [NagaWorld] to gamble. [Each time] I bet between $5 and $10 on football,” he said.

While Sokha said he was unsure on whom he would place his money for the World Cup, fellow gambler Virak said he had high hopes for Brazil.

“I think Brazil will win the World Cup and [one of their players will win] the Golden Boot,” he said, referring to the honour awarded to the tournament’s top goal scorer.

A member of staff at NagaWorld, who asked to be kept anonymous, said no bets had been placed on the World Cup so far.

But the packed room of football fans suggested there would be no shortage of wagers.

Outside of big money gambling, Narin, the deputy police chief, said that there was no problem gambling “for fun”, adding that he will be betting with cups of coffee during the tournament.

Virath, a 26-year-old Manchester United fan, said he is looking forward to spending time with friends during the World Cup. But he limits his wagers now to beer and food.

“After working a full day, the World Cup is good for reducing stress with friends.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities of the gamblers

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