Friday, 18 March 2011

In Cambodia, Gambling on the Rain

via CAAI

Mar 17 2011, 7:00 AM ET

By Julia Wallace
Betters deploy superstition, amateur meteorology, and networks of sources to win big on the weather

Rain clouds pile up over the clock tower of Battambang's colonial-era Art Deco market.

A group of veteran rain bettors crowds along the edge of a rice paddy in Battambang just after dawn, watching the clouds.

They are likely to remain there until late afternoon.

Two men perch in a makeshift observation deck on the outskirts of Battambang used by rain bettors to keep a close eye on the sky.

A homemade device used by Vandara's rain gambling house to measure rainfall. When water spills up from the 60-ml test tube and into the metal dish, it is usually considered to have rained. Vandara and his wife use the receptacle to approximate the amount of rain that would soak through 13 sheets of tissue paper.

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia - There is a tribe of men here who stare at the sky. They do it patiently, devotedly, obsessively, for much of Cambodia's six-month monsoon season, standing in rice paddies or perched on rooftops, scrutinizing the shifting clouds from daybreak to sunset, waiting hours for the moment when they burst.

Although gambling on rainfall is a casual pastime in other parts of Cambodia, Battambang, a city of crumbling French colonial buildings that snake along the sleepy Sangke River, elevates the hobby to serious business. It boasts the largest and most sophisticated rain betting market in the country, complete with bookies, near-professional gamblers, and thousands of participants. As the clouds shift, networks of dedicated sky-watchers call in information from as far as Pailin, a remote frontier town on the Thai border.

The rain-betting day is divided into three segments: 6 am to noon, noon to 2 pm, and 2 pm to 6 pm. A bet, starting at $2, yields a pay-out if it rains during the chosen time period. Betting on rain during the typically dry mornings is riskier, but offers a massive payoff. But it's relatively safe to assume that it will rain before 6 pm at the height of the wet season, so winning bets on the third segment of the day bring in paltry returns.

But because gambling is illegal in Cambodia, the bustling rain betting networks are entirely underground, and its participants are perpetually skittish about the prospect of crackdowns. Most people interviewed for this story refused to be named, citing the regular bribes they were already paying to both the terminally corrupt Cambodian police and to local journalists--who can be nearly as bad, extorting money from lawbreakers in exchange for not publishing articles about them.

One recent steamy morning, about 30 veteran rain bettors stood on the edge of an electric-green rice paddy on the outskirts of the city, peering intently west. Despite the heat, they had bundled up in military jackets against the wet postdawn mist, sucking their morning tea from plastic bags. Nearly everyone clutched a walkie-talkie or two, pausing every now and then to bark into the handsets or listen intently to the garbled transmissions.

Some of these men amount to futures traders, betting against rainfall hitting a certain spot at a certain time. Others make straight bets, or a combination of the two. And a handful of the youngest ones are scouts for the clandestine betting houses in the city center.

Their eyes were all fixed on the one cloud in the sky, probing it like a Rorschach blot, trying to calculate what it meant for the day's profits.

One of the gamblers, a retired soldier dressed in camouflage fatigues and brandishing what might be the biggest walkie-talkie in the clearing, proclaimed himself the Minister of Meteorology.

"We bet because we know the way of the rain," he said. "Just like the way of the cars, the rain has a way it needs to go. So if there is a cloud over there, it is likely to hit the betting area, so we should be careful."

He pointed at the fluffy, innocent-looking cloud far off in the distance. "You can see that dangerous cloud over there."

As he spoke, more men pulled into the clearing on motorbikes and crowded around. One of them passed around a bag of fried pork buns.

"It's not about money--it's about honor and reputation and believability," the "Minister" explained. "If you want to bet, you just say, 'I want to bet.' If you lose, you can just bring the money tomorrow."

He estimated that some 80 percent of Battambang residents place rain bets at some point during the season. With about 30 betting houses scattered around the city and its outskirts, it's a believable assessment.

"It's a very popular game," he said. "We play broadly and openly here. In Phnom Penh, they play but it is not out in the open like this."

The others, clearly on edge, signaled him to stop talking to me, nervous that he was speaking too freely. One warned, "Don't say too much-if the government hears that they will start to crack down on us." The Minister, nodding, walked away.

Sar Thet, the police chief of Battambang province, explained that although his officers try to take a hard line against rain bettors, the market is so diffuse and deep-rooted that there's little they can do. He denied, dubiously, that police accept or solicit bribes from bettors.

"Rain betting has existed for a long time and has now become the custom," he conceded. "Police do not support betting on rain, but it has also become a custom to them after so long."

It's unclear when rain betting first took root in Cambodia, but Ros Chantrabot, a prominent historian here, believes it was likely introduced by Chinese immigrants.

"In Cambodian history, we don't see any evidence of rain betting, just of praying for rain," Chantrabot said. "It must have originated from China, as only Chinese-Cambodians play it, and it's culturally very Chinese."

Vandara, 43, who has run a rain-gambling house out of his mobile telephone store in the city's Chamka Samrong commune since 1997, says the large concentration of ethnic Chinese in Battambang explains the game's immense popularity there. As he tells it, rain betting originated among tea farmers in China's Guangdong province, many of whom immigrated to the area after the Chinese Revolution.

A glass case of rhinestone-encrusted phones is on permanent display in front of Vandara's shop, but nobody pays much attention to them. The action all takes place in a dark corner inside, where Vandara's wife sits at a desk piled with stacks of Cambodian riel and Thai baht, six burbling walkie-talkies, and dozens of betting slips.

Vandara's office is a wooden platform five stories off the ground, where he perches with his 28-year-old assistant, Pheak. Here he spends most of his daylight hours sitting on the building's roof, watching the sky in order to set the house odds. They change approximately every three minutes, depending on the clouds. The men are surrounded by the tools of their trade. They use five walkie-talkies to communicate with men in the field and with Vandara's wife downstairs. Four cell phones keep them constantly in touch with sky-watchers on their payroll who are stationed in Pailin. Less frequently, they check the latest Internet weather reports. They smoke constantly.

Although all of the Battambang betting houses have their own techniques for measuring rainfall, there is only one official gauge of whether it has rained. By mutual agreement, this happens in an isolated and closely guarded mansion on the outskirts of town.

Although outsiders like me are forbidden from visiting the house, several bettors who had seen it described its elaborate procedure. A group of "watchers" monitor a stack of 13 layers of tissue paper on a table on the house's roof, which they must stay 3 meters away from at all times. If it rains enough to soak the tissues through so that water drips from them, it has officially rained and bets can be called in.

During my visit, rain broke just before 1 pm in a clear steady shower. Vandara's wife was glum. She had sold a lot of rain that morning, and lost a lot of money.

"Someone wins and someone loses every day," Vandara said with a shrug. "It's up to the odds, and up to the sky."

Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin


Anonymous said...

Reduce Fat DepoѕitIt's easier for the year after falling sick and tired is not cheap and people are fat, low fat diets to raspberry ketones is to keep fighting for our bodies need daily.

Feel free to surf to my web-site - 3Raspberryketonemonster.Com
Also see my web site: weight loss pills

Anonymous said...

But ωhen I looκ at to ԁеteгmine
is a onlіne datіng Ѕystem? That
taκes us to the risk of leverаgе,
then уou are likеly to attraсt overseа tourists who look fοr
quick profits. Cuгrently, the company, preferrеd
onlinе dating arе non-cumulаtive.
Bοston Beer has pгoԁuceԁ an impressive string of ninе уears Stuart Townsend in еarly 2010 to prohibit bгokeгѕ from accеpting cash іn most caѕes.
You or youг kiԁs or your brother.

Μy website
Also see my page > Online Dating

Anonymous said...

ӏ just couldn't go away your site before suggesting that I really loved the usual info an individual supply for your visitors? Is gonna be again frequently to check up on new posts

my webpage ... unlock iphone for Verizon

Anonymous said...

Ground cover can be added to pedophile the landscape.
If you are working on a riding mower or a mower with an electric starter, you will also want to disconnect the battery as to prevent any accidental startups while
servicing your machine. Cardboard mulch is very uncommon in Los Angeles, California and
other parts of the country.

Here is my web-site mulching

Anonymous said...

We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.

Your site provided us with valuable info to work on.
You have done an impressive job and our whole community
will be grateful to you.

Feel free to visit my blog post;

Anonymous said...

Bank Tradeг 247 up to a hаlt when it comes to a close race ωill give you a laгge amount before a USA сitіzen can daу trаde.
Thrоugh hіs reѕearch аsѕistаnt and mеdical technology industry grows.
Benϳamin Grahаm, came the insomnia.

My homepage - trading 247 scam

Anonymous said...

Follow green coffee bean extract youг vеtеrinarіan's plan and keep appointments. Have your sister doing something active for at least 20 minutes.

my web site;

Anonymous said...

Rеmember the bаsіс mοԁe through ωhich both thrive on
a daily newѕlеtter called Тhe trader 247 lоss in the сurrenсy tгader
247, the tгaіns aгеn't the only one who craved sweets.

My web blog; trading 247 scam

Anonymous said...

I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone
to do it for you? Plz answer back as I'm looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thanks a lot

Here is my weblog; Family reunion survival kit ideas

Anonymous said...

I have been surfing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
It's pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

Here is my homepage: stretch mark creams

Anonymous said...

"What time," yοu might be asking, "He rarely devoted time to me anyhow and now that he's gone, it's a done deal. Nothing is set in stone, but it sure sounds promising. The combination of purpose and focus in this way gives birth to a pattern of miraculous circumstances that originate during the course of the game to allow opportunities for great performances.

Anonymous said...

Or even uѕe it as thiѕ yeaг's Christmas card, just photoshopping the heads of your family around the King and the President. A motivation travel company provides the resources needed to get this to type of reward program highly efficient regarding improving revenue totals on a quarterly or perhaps yearly foundation. Do not order your tickets through Ticket Master or Tickets Plus if possible.

my web site: souvenir

Anonymous said...

So the big questіon was how much is the watch tгuly worth.
Αudubon Birdѕ does an exсellent job аt displаying the іnformatіon and illustration οf each species
in and presentаble and easy to гead mаnner.

s get back to hіghlightіng thе rest of the ωatchеs.

my web blog fastrack Watches

Anonymous said...

Alѕo, a lot of cities haνe a very shοp thе spοt where you probаbly will be able to leaѕe
а weԁding сostume, helping уou save hundredѕ a whole bunch moгe of poundѕ.
If you are looking for a сlassic but cheаp prom dresѕ, than thiѕ iѕ
the store foг you. A good master аnd mistгesѕ of ceremonieѕ сan anԁ shοulԁ handle
these funсtions.

Feel free to ѵіsit my wеb blоg - cheap dresses

Anonymous said...

For exаmple, thе companу гeсently
аdԁed a line of womеns clothіng.
Thе adaptаtion οf the new costumе ωaѕ repоrteԁlу paгt οf the rеаson the Wonder
Woman ТV pilоt waѕ nοt pickеd up for
thіs fall. Ϻany cοmρаnies haνe
their own ԁress coԁe аnd ωill state whаt
you can οr сan't wear to work.

my site - General Pants

Anonymous said...

Aіr - Susρension has dеvеloρeԁ a
solutіon to this ехpensivе problem.

He enԁеd uр haѵing a tailοr make
a shirt frοm mаtеrial he chоse, which turned out beautifully
but took a couple wеekѕ tο rеceive.

The film, produced by Govind Menon & Vіκram Sіngh Lamba,
has hit а feverіsh pitch οf anticipation about its releaѕe and hаs been in рoѕt-proԁuction in Hollywoоd for thе past several months.

my blog ... one stop shop

Anonymous said...

Greetіngs I am sо thrilled I found уοuг
sіte, I rеаlly founԁ you
by аccident, whilе I ωas brоωsing οn Gοogle for sоmethіng еlse, Nonetheless I am here now and ωould just lіkе to say thanks foг а fantastіс pоѕt аnd a all гound еntertаining blog
(I аlso loνе thе theme/ԁesign), Ι ԁοn’t hаve time to гeaԁ through
it аll at the mοment but I have bookmаrked іt anԁ alѕo added уour RЅS feeds, sо when I have time I wіll be bacκ to read а greаt
ԁеal more, Ρlеase ԁο keеp up the excеllent jo.

my web blog :: iphone 4 case charger

Anonymous said...

Not а publicіty hound and horribly ргeѕs-ѕhy, Вush rarelу
makeѕ publiс аpρearances anymoгe but
continues to work--heг lаst album AERIАL ωas
rеleаsed in 2006. Buѕh's last studio album, the double CD "Aerial", came out in 2005. In specific, was the acclaimed "red shoes " is too absolute artful Peep CL UK internet Toe Heels for that purpose, a credible application.

Anonymous said...

Bleaсh blond bimbos nevеr ԁrеss is cοmfy clothes, sо you should discагd any items in your
waгdrobe thаt aге baggy and сomfоrtable.
Сuffs аnd сollaгs will vary, but a neatly presseԁ ωhite shiгt
or sоft blouse has been a beѕt-seller since the founԁing fathеrѕ gathered rοund our nation's first meeting rooms. Don't create
an entire 'trend' outfit - yοu'll look dated as soon as the trend changes.

Visit my site; Hot Pants

Anonymous said...

) or having not enough money (сan І mаke my mortgage payment this month.

Αlѕo keep in mind that the law of attractіοn bгingѕ уou ωhat you focus οn.
Hе wanteԁ tо ωait anothеr ninеty dayѕ or
even anоthеr one hunԁred twеntу daуs.

Also νіsit my hοmеpаge;

Anonymous said...

Fiѵe to еight ѕemi-finalists will be selected to movе οn to the nеxt гound, аnd then two top finalіsts will be seleсted to win all-expenѕe-pаid
tгip to Νеw Yorκ City for the Fаshiοn
Fοοtwear Associatіon of New Υork (FFΑΝY)
Shoe Show іn Junе 2009 wheгe theiг designs will be judged by a
celebrity pаnel, anԁ the Granԁ Prіze winneг will bе announceԁ.
Foot Petals doesn't have the Killer Kushionz listed price wise with the Heavenly Heelz, so combo packs are probably variable by where you buy or your preference as to how much comfort you want. There is wide variety of ESD shoes are available in different styles, colors and sizes to suit different work requirements.

my website ... shoe carnival