World Cup Bountiful for Gambling Franchise

Outside the main branch of Cambosix, Cambodia’s only legal sports betting franchise, a man who calls himself Ta Mob, or the Fat Man, greets gamblers and giggles as the security guard pinches his belly. He is familiar with the premises.

Ta Mob is a gambling middleman. He gathers money from local businessmen and merchants. He says he even gathers money from “schools and students.” All he does is place the bets at Cambosix—referred to by gamblers and bookies as “the company”—and collects a 2 percent commission.

Whether the bettors win or lose, the Fat Man always wins. And the World Cup, which begins Friday in Japan and South Korea, will be a lucrative time for him.

There are seven Cambosix outlets open in Phnom Penh, and another two are on the way, said a company official who asked not to be named.

Gambling on football was legalized earlier this year by the Council of Ministers. But Cambo­six is the only establishment that has so far been authorized by the government to operate.

Illegal gambling outfits still abound in Phnom Penh, however. They appear to be run-of-the-mill provisions shops, but can be identified by posters featuring popular football teams. They stay afloat by offering slightly better odds than Cambosix, but are slowly being squeezed out.

One man who runs an illegal establishment complained that his business cannot stay afloat.

“In the future I will only have a lottery, because the betting is not going very well since the company opened,” he said. “I would like to offer a better rate than the company. But I cannot, because I am afraid the customers will win too much.”

Another illegal proprietor said police are another threat to the survival of his business. “I have to pay from $5 to $10 per month [in bribes] to the police,” he said.

The municipality does not have a plan to eradicate the illegal outfits. Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara acknowledged the illegal gambling houses are still open for business, but said “[I] cannot stop it…. I will try to open a discussion on this issue, but not before the World Cup,” he said.

Uch Thorn, deputy chief of penal police for Daun Penh district, where many of the illegal establishments exist, said there are no plans to crackdown and he has no knowledge of police taking bribes from the betting establishments. But police have taken illegal bookmakers to court two or three times, Uch Thorn said.

The Cambosix official said the company “has not taken any measures against the illegal gambling stores, [and] the company has no worries because it is up to the bettors to decide where to bet.”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, is worried about the adverse effects gambling will have on young people.

“Most of the gamblers are teenagers or young adults, usually students, and I don’t know where they find the money to gamble,” she said. “Young people use gambling rather than their own merits and there is a tendency to embrace anything that doesn’t come from their own efforts.”

Standing outside the Cambosix on Sihanouk Boulevard, 20 year-old high school student Ly Veasna fidgeted in his school uniform. He said he plans to watch every World Cup match live, and will continue betting as long as he keeps winning.

If he is in class when a particular game is being played, “I will ask permission from my teacher to leave,” he said. But if he is not granted permission, Ly Veasna said he will just find another way to watch football.


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