As World Cup Kicks Off, Punters Bet Over Coffee

Police officers crowded around a table at Damnak Cafe on Street 208 Thursday, tossing down 1,000 riel notes on a game of cards and sipping coffee as a waitress circled around filling glasses.

A quick nod to the waitress and a gesture toward a tray under a table from a punter and she opened a box brimming with slips listing 16 football games from leagues as far afield as Finland and Belarus.

Starting Thursday, and continuing throughout the coming month, the top of the slip will read “FIFA World Cup 2014.” In the first match of the tournament, Brazil was heavily favored over Croatia.

The waitress made a phone call and two minutes later a bookmaker pulled up, strutted into the cafe and took a seat as three men moved in around the table, waiting to place their bets.

Drawing a folder from inside a crumpled newspaper, the bookie revealed a sheet of numerals representing bets placed so far, with most people having selected 1, Brazil’s number for the day.

Although gambling was outlawed in 1996, the government allowed CamboSix, a football betting company, to operate in the country until 2009, when Prime Minister Hun Sen abruptly ordered their operations shut. Since then, football gambling has retreated mostly into the city’s coffee shops, with illicit bookmakers on call to pick up money from punters at any hour of the day.

One 25-year-old gambler, who gave his name only as Un, said he usually caps his bets at $10.

“We bet in secret,” he said. “I usually just go to the betting shop and ask the bookie for a betting slip. I check the results on the Internet and collect our money if I win.”

A tuk-tuk driver named Chamroeun, a regular sports bettor, said placing bets was a risky business as rogue bookmakers sometimes find a way to disappear with big wins.

“There is too much to risk. If you make a lot of money, they do not pay us and we can’t file a complaint with them because it is illegal,” he said, adding “the bookies are also police officers.”

But coffee shops are not the only place people are betting on football, as more turn to the Internet to try their odds.

A man from Stung Meanchey district, who declined to be named, said he opened an account on a gambling website by depositing money with the owners of an Internet cafe in the city.

Now he can log onto the site wherever he has Internet access and choose from hundreds of matches that day. The cafe owners take or add money to his account depending on his luck, he said.

“I am a little worried sometimes, but I think it is more safe than betting through slips in a coffee shop which is more open,” he explained Thursday. The man placed his bet on Croatia.

Despite locals flouting gambling laws across the city, Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the National Military Police, said police would not be turning a blind-eye to illegal gambling rings.

“There is some football betting but they are doing it in secret only. We will crack down because it is not allowed by law,” Gen. Tito said, citing recent raids on football-betting and cockfighting rings as evidence of the force’s commitment to curbing the practice.

Gen. Tito said efforts to eliminate illegal gambling would have a better chance of success were it not for corrupt officials.

“If officers carried out their duties in accordance with the law, we could crack down on everything,” he said. “But if the police and thieves conspire with each other, who can we arrest?”

[email protected], [email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News