Lam, a worker at a garment factory in Thu Duc district, pulled at his hair in frustration as Bayern Munich scored twice in a row in the second half to secure a final 4-1 victory over Cologne. Lam had placed a bet on the underdog and lost money as a result.
“I’ve lost as much as VND5 million (approximately US$250) to football bets over the past weeks,” said Lam, one side of this mouth twitched.
Lam has been drawn to football gambling for the last two years, though not a ‘big’ gambler because he earns a monthly income of only a few million dong. He often wagers some VND200,000 to VND300,000 on football matches, hoping to earn some extra money the easy way.
Blame it on bad luck
Following football gamblers at some coffee shops in Thu Duc and district 9, I saw many students and workers toiling by day and getting hooked on the gambling by night. They believed they can win and this naïve belief keeps them coming back to gambling after every loss.
“It’s truly bad if you lose the bet because by selecting one of two available options, you actually have 50% of winning. I’ve earned my livelihood by betting on football,” Tram, a worker, told me at a coffee shop facing Viet Thang company on Le Van Chi Street in Thu Duc.
When Tram won bets, his face beamed with satisfaction, saying it was easy to earn money by betting. When he lost, he just thought that he would have better luck next time and blamed it on ‘bad luck’ or ‘limited capital.’One day, a group of heavy gamblers were watching a football match at a coffee shop on Le Van Chi street when the frightened owner suddenly appeared and announced he had to close the shop because it was under watch of the police. Refusing to call it the night, the gamblers scrambled around, trying to find another place to place their bets.
“Let’s go to Man Thien Street in district 9, I’ll pick up you there,” Lam told me on the phone. Upon our arrival, we saw a roomful of people glued to a big TV screen in the middle of the room, watching a football match.
Here customers of the shop can get the latest updates on football data, statistical analysis, betting rates and odds from bookies through networked computers placed inside the shop. There are also two boards full of betting rates.
A gambler pulled at his hair in frustration after he lost the bet. Photo by Tuoi Tre
Finding way to pawnshop
After losing soccer bets, gamblers often pawn their personal items or even commit a crime to get money for more bets. They do not seem able to stop themselves even though they know they are in trouble.
“Please go with me to a pawnshop. Hurry up!” Thanh, a student at a university in Thu Duc university village, urged me.
At a pawnshop on Le Van Street in District 9, he took his bike’s title out of his wallet and gave it and the bike to the owner.
“How much?” the owner asked.
“7 rocks,” Thanh relied, using a local slang term for a million.
Around midnight, Thanh staggered towards me with a long face, “What rotten luck, I’ve lost 5 rocks.”
For the next several days, I could not find him anywhere. Someone said he ran out of money. But a couple of weeks later, I saw him in a familiar coffee shop, sitting quietly in a corner, watching a football match.
When the first half was finished, I heard many people shouting “Fight, fight.” I saw Thanh being beaten up by three men but no one dared intervene to stop them.
“Did you think you could hide from us? When will you pay?” a scary-looking man shouted at Thanh.
They then fled on a motorbike, throwing threats of violence at him while Thanh limped out of the coffee shop.
“Since early this year, I’ve lost VND20 million ($1,000) to football bets. Now, I just bet on a few matches to save money for the EURO cup,” Tuan, a schoolmate of Thanh, told me.
Tuan said he has pawned his bike many times. Once, when he did not have enough money to redeem it, he lied to his parents that he had lost it so they would buy him a new one.
During the course of working undercover to write this article, I also met many people who have spent time in prison for crimes they committed to get money to satisfy their gambling craze.
N.T.H. in Binh Phuoc southern province, a mother whose son is being jailed at Chi Hoa prison in Ho Chi Minh City for stealing assets, told me in tears: “I don’t know why he did it. He was going to graduate from a vocational school before his crime.”
Many lives have ended in tragedies as homes were ruined, jobs were lost, and families destroyed after the men became addicted to football gambling. The biggest tragedy is perhaps how they were too irresponsible to recognize and act upon that.