Thai Boxing Delivers Knockout in Northwest

Betting on the Fights A Favorite Pastime

pailin – As the boxer in blue shorts knees the other fighter in the stomach, shouts explode from the crowd gathered around the two television sets. When the audience sees blood dripping from the boxer’s head, many stand and cheer.

“Who is willing to bet with me?” asks one man.

“Put me down for 500 baht ($12) for the blue shorts,” another shouts.

This is a typical Monday night at the Heang Meas Hotel restaurant, where more than 100 men gather every week to watch and bet on Thai boxing. The stakes are high, with betters losing or winning as much as $500 in one night.

Wagering on Thai boxing matches is a popular pastime in the northwest areas of Cambodia close to the Thai border, including Pailin and Banteay Mean­chey and Battambang pro­vinces. For many, it breaks up the routine of the work week and offers a chance to win some money, if you’re lucky and smart.

“I don’t ever miss a match,” said Lim Kosal, who used to be a logger and is now a gem miner. “Usually I win or lose about 300 baht ($7) each round, but sometimes I bet a lot more.”

Police officials in the northwest say although betting on boxing matches is illegal, as are other forms of gambling, it is difficult to stop because the laws are vague.

“The law doesn’t specifically talk about betting on boxing like it mentions playing cards,” said Sok Sareth, Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief. “It’s hard for us to catch them, because when we go there, they will say they are just watching boxing.”

At Heng Meas Hotel, men begin gathering two hours before the match begins to have a drink and eat dinner. Hotel employees have already set up chairs to fill the entire restaurant. By the time the match starts, all the seats are filled.

The gatherings are raucous affairs, with boxing fans shouting over each other and taunting one another. It is also a social gathering and in between breaks in the fighting, the men saunter toward other tables across the room to talk to friends. Many chain smoke while they watch the matches.

The betting procedures are simple. People place bets during each round. When a round is finished, the losses and winnings are collected and when a new round begins, so starts a new round of betting.

During the round, you can change who you are betting on. If you bet on the boxer in the blue shorts, but you see that the one in the red shorts is doing better, you can switch your bet.

The betting itself is informal, with some people shaking hands, while others just shout to each other across the room. Some record their bets on paper while others keep track of them in their head.

Ok Bunthoeun can’t wait for Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays to come around—the days when Thai boxing airs on cable channels in Pailin.

He said the trick is to know the strengths and weaknesses of boxers, and then find people who don’t have that knowledge and bet with them.

“If you know how to play, you won’t lose money,” Ok Bunthoeun said. “We never have fights about it because we know each other and we don’t get confused about the bets.”

He said when the gatherings began three years, more people came because they were awash in the money made from logging or selling gems.

“Now there aren’t as many people coming because the gems have disappeared and the government has cracked down on logging,” Ok Bunthoeun said.

On one recent evening, a man calling himself Phoeun came out even after the first match. He originally bet $12 on the boxer who turned out to be the loser, but quickly changed his bet to the other fighter, who was pummeling his opponent.

“My money will go toward making a farm for somebody else,” he joked after he first lost.

Sometimes, Phoeun said, he won’t bet on anyone and instead, quietly observes the fighters. When he sees a strong fighter, he calls on other people to bet with him and puts more than the usual amount down.

“Other people call me to bet, too, but I keep quiet if the boxers are no good,” he said. “I know many Thai boxers, so I know who is weak and who is strong. If we know the boxers’ tactics, we will not lose frequently.”



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