One bookmaker’s Malaysian manager, who refused to give his name because of the illegal nature of his business, conceded that the operation was running “on borrowed time.”
The websites operating in the town employ Indonesians, Thais and other nationalities on telephone help lines and computer chat rooms to assist people setting up accounts in their home countries.
Rooms in hotels and casinos are rented out to these operators, giving the town something of a gold rush atmosphere.
Poipet is a town where few would choose to live unless they were making money, or have gambling addictions to feed.
In the daytime, trucks carrying squealing pigs roll through town, as do vehicles full of foreign tourists on their way to the ruins of Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s iconic 12th century temple.
By night, touts on motorbikes patrol the main drag offering women and drugs, while children beg. A stinking, rubbish-clogged river dissects the town.
Unlicensed Asian betting sites and bookmakers like those in Poipet function as unofficial agents of the larger Asian betting operators, most of them based in the Philippines. Unlike in regulated markets, syndicates are able to place bets anonymously, with no cash trail to follow or betting patterns to examine if fixing suspicions emerge, said David Forrest, an applied economist who specializes in sports gambling at the University of Salford Business School in Britain.
“Asia is the dominant betting market, even though the sport is European. And most criminals, whether they come from Asia or Europe, will place the bets in Asia because of the non-regulated sector of that market,” he said. “It’s a huge market, and easy to hide money.”
Bookmakers and bettors alike in Poipet are aware that some matches are fixed, but such information is closely held by the syndicates and doesn’t reach ordinary gamblers. The Premier League is regarded as fix-proof, but the Italian, Russian and smaller Asian leagues are suspect. The gamblers say it doesn’t affect their betting.
AP Assistant Europe Editor Sheila Norman-Culp contributed from London.