Hopes for Riches Entice Poor to Take a Chance on Lottery

Some Cambodians looked to the lottery last week for help financing their Khmer New Year celebrations, but few came away winners.

Before leaving Phnom Penh to spend the New Year with his family in Svay Rieng province, motorcycle taxi driver Nhem Sokha, 45, decided to try his luck on the lottery. He spent 2,400 riel ($0.60) on lottery tickets for a chance to win 720,000 riel ($184). If his numbers were to come up winners, he said he would spend the pot on New Year’s festivities.

“There is some hope. Other­wise, I would not do it,” Nhem Sokha said as the gaming stall operator jotted down his numbers.

But like most of the gamblers who gather nightly at gaming stalls, which continue to sprout up along Monivong Boulevard, odds are against Nhem Sokha.

Winning the lottery in Cambo­dia—even the games offering modest prizes—is unlikely, according to many of the gaming stall operators.

“People lose much more than they win,” said Chhim Makny, 23, who sells tickets from a sidewalk booth in Daun Penh district. “Most of the people who gamble are poor, and they are playing every day.”

The gaming stalls clustered around Phsar Chas attract droves of low-paid motorcycle taxi drivers and police officers looking to take a chance on the lottery. The patios and sidewalks surrounding these gambling hot spots are littered with spent tickets.

The larger Cambodian lottery operators such as MGM Lottery Sports Co Ltd and Magnum Cambodia Co Ltd also attract their share of gamblers.

The Vietnamese lottery based in Ho Chi Minh City is popular with Cambodian and Vietnamese players alike.

“Most of my clients are policemen and motorcycle taxi drivers,” said 22-year-old lottery reseller Sout Srei Pin. “They don’t make a lot of money.”

Sout Srei Pin came to Phnom Penh from Pursat province and found work as a gaming stall operator peddling tickets from a sidewalk booth.

She earns about 10,000 riel ($2.56) to 30,000 riel ($7.70) daily in commissions.

“I’m also a player,” said Sout Srei Pin.

“I have only won a few times.” She sells anywhere from 400,000 riel ($102) to 700,000 riel ($179) in lottery tickets each day.

According to figures from Hong Pheap, assistant manager of MGM Lottery Sports Co Ltd, between 30,000 and 40,000 people play the lottery daily. About 600 win every day, he said.

How do many of the Cambo­dian players choose their lottery numbers?

Dreams, mostly. Gaming operators even keep handy books to help players interpret dreams and then select numbers based on those interpretations.

According to one book, dreaming about your father-in-law means bad luck—and the numbers 41 or 53.

Motorcycle taxi driver Nhien Maly relies on his dreams when picking numbers. He claimed that a dream once helped him win an 800,000 riel ($204) prize.

But regardless of their dreams, few Cambodians will ever walk away with the lottery’s grand prize, according to some gaming operators. Sout Srei Pin said few of the new lottery companies in Cambo­dia have enough money to make good on the biggest prizes.

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