Gambling may be illegal for Cambodian citizens, but bets are rolling in for Euro 2000—right in front of Phsar Thmei and other venues.
This month has seen the first widespread public betting on European football in Phnom Penh. TV3 is broadcasting the European championships. In the past, there was mostly quiet betting among friends. Now, anyone can watch—and anyone can bet.
Mostly young men were laying down money at the betting stand in front of Tov Chhun Seng Jewelers on Sunday morning. Four or five similar stands are around Phsar Thmei, frequented in large part by 18- to 23-year-olds, according to one gambler.
The stand, like the others around Phsar Thmei, is small. A few bookies sit in lawn chairs around a metal desk, one of its drawers serving as a cashbox. But the crowd surrounding the stand is anything but tiny.
At a larger betting house on Street 214, an armed guard mans the gate. The crowd here is a little older, and the bets higher. Billfolds full of $20 and $50 notes are brandished left and right, as layers of men push forward to place their wagers.
Bets on the football games here range from a few thousand riel to $10,000, according to participants. Bets at the stands near Phsar Thmei go up to about $500.
With such large amounts of cash in motion, gambling theft may be a problem. According to Reuters news service, one bookie made off with more than $20,000 in bets on Sunday without paying off anyone, causing a near-riot.
The football matches are aired late at night. On Sunday, Holland versus Yugoslavia aired at 11 pm, and France versus Spain at 1:45 am. Public screenings were held at the Hong Kong Center and on streetsides throughout the city.
Though many simply bet on the favorites for each game, some gamblers are more sophisticated with their wagers. Phan Vuthy of Phnom Penh plays the odds. By watching the betting stands throughout the day and betting on both teams at the right rates, he can make a profit no matter who wins.
As successful gamblers collected their winnings Sunday in front of Tov Chhun Seng Jewelers, police and military were among the crowd. They made no move to stop the bookies or gamblers. One man in a military uniform held a betting receipt in his hand as he chatted with gamblers.
According to Doung Sunchantha, a deputy chief at the penal police department, public gambling has never occurred to this extent, and is quite rare overall. He stressed that gambling is illegal for Cambodians (only foreigners can enter the nation’s casinos). However, police are under no orders to try to stop the public betting. Doung Sunchantha had no comment on Sunday’s near-riot over gambling theft.