At sunrise on secret Phnom Penh rooftops, the sky gamblers gather to study the heavens and set the odds. Later, they descend to small, street-side eateries to sip tea, play Chinese chess and wait patiently.
In Battambang province, some drive to rural hillsides to scan the horizon for oncoming storms. When they’re content with their evaluation, they call trusted bookies on handheld radios, and keep watch carefully.
In Banteay Meanchey province, certain savvy taxi drivers are willing to drive cloud-perusing passengers to several spots to gauge wind and weather—before calling in their customers’ bets by mobile phone.
Provincial police officials admit that this illegal practice is going on, but insist it’s nearly impossible to eliminate and, for the most part, harmless.
“How can we arrest them?” Battambang provincial police chief Choup Pothirit said. “All we see them doing is looking at the sky.”
This is the world of weather betting. It’s a covert realm of rain-guessing gamblers and armchair meteorologists eager to place money on their prognostications.
In Cambodia, the practice fits into an illegal gaming culture that includes betting on such events as cockfighting, bowling and fighting fish.
What may seem like the easiest of games—simply predicting precipitation—is instead an intricate operation shrouded in a web of tightly guarded locations, clandestine payoffs and wagers that some say can stretch into the tens of thousands of dollars.
“This game is harder than simple business at the market.