Gambling Stalls Drawing Fewer Than in 1998

Dim lights, thick smoke and plastic lawn furniture make the atmosphere at So Thy’s coffee shop in Daun Penh district. Every extra chair So Thy could find has been crammed in every available space to accommodate the football fans who come to “relax,” watch the World Cup matches and see if their bets will pay off.

The place is packed, but So Thy says it is nothing compared to the 1998 World Cup. Street 49, near Phsar Thmei, is home to countless illegal betting stalls and a recently opened Cambosix outlet—one of a string of several new storefronts that have established themselves under the same name recently and together make up Cambodia’s only government-sanctioned football gambling business.

“Many people are too afraid of the police to gamble on this street now,” So Thy said.

Four years ago, he said, the street was so packed you couldn’t drive a motorcycle down it. This year, he said, there are about 90 percent fewer gamblers.

Municipal police have raised concerns that betting on World Cup matches may contribute to social ills ranging from crime to students neglecting their studies. Since the world’s most-watched sporting event is being held in Asia this year, fans are able to watch many of the games live, during work and school hours.

Other officials have expressed dismay over betting stalls, saying they are often protected by high-ranking officials.

Since the World Cup started Friday, there has been a noticeable increase in crime, said Ouch Thorn, Daun Penh’s deputy penal police chief. He added there are at least 20 illegal stalls in his district, but “It is very difficult to crack down on them because those betting stalls have [influential] supporters.”

Police strolled up and down the street in a menacing fashion Monday, warning illegal stalls to close down. They said they intend to make arrests, but have yet to receive authorization.

But one proprietor of an illegal stall said that in order to stay open, all he has to do is pay 10,000 riel per month ($2.53) to the police.

Tuol Kok district Police Chief Kim Hourn said he has seen many teen-agers betting on football. “I will not allow the illegal betting stall to stay in my district,” he said. “The betting can cause students to become gangsters and they will stop studying.”

In Mony Neath, Prampi Ma­kara district deputy judicial police chief, agreed that gambling may cause a rise in robberies. He said he knows of 12 bookmakers in his district, but said it is difficult to crack down on them because they often open for just one hour at a time.

In Mony Neath said he has arrested 20 gamblers so far. But, he said, “right now the police lack the procedures to arrest the illegal betting stalls because we do not have enough funds or materials to close all the stalls.”

Ly Lay, Russei Keo district police chief, was blunt about the issue, saying that “all types of gambling will increase crimes in society.”

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