Expats from western countries are finding Cambodia’s underground poker scene a lucrative and exciting way to make a living.
At the heart of the professional poker scene in the country is the luxurious Riverking poker room located inside a rundown Phnom Penh hotel. This underground poker room has a range of amenities like comfy executive sofas, marble flooring, several flat screen televisions as well as a well-stocked bar – making it a comfortable environment for those looking to have some fun at the tables. Also available are a wall of safes that players can use for securely holding cash typically in U.S. dollars.
Commonly seen at the gaming tables are expat players from Western countries. Known as ‘grinders‘, these are full-time players who make their living from poker, playing against well-heeled locals who don’t mind losing big on the felt. These locals are typically from the upper classes of Cambodia’s society – military generals, politicians, and wealthy businessmen.
In a statement Michael Kim, a poker playing expat from the US said,
These guys are just here to have fun. Even if they lose a massive pot they don’t care – they want to make friends. They are more like whales [than mere ‘fish’]. I don’t mean that with any negative connotations though – they are great guys.
Luke McCollum, a British poker player agreed saying some of the locals have so much money that they lose up to $3,000 on a single hand without worrying about it. Gambling is banned in Cambodia under the Law on the Suppression of Gambling. There are 60 licensed casinos operational in the country which caters solely to foreigners.
Overall Cambodia’s poker scene has been slowing picking up in the past few years – apart from underground poker rooms in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, six other casinos now offer live poker. The Asian Poker Tour and the World Poker Tour have held events in the country in recent years.
Riverking’s general manager noted that having connections was vital to operate an underground poker room which is also frequented by locals. According to the manager, the Riverking poker room was opened by a senior official within the Cambodian government whose identity was strictly confidential.
According to expats like Gareth Jones, Cambodia is a cheap location with an easy poker scene and a lot of action making it an ideal spot for those looking for a fun lifestyle. Kim also pointed out that there was no question of taxes on winnings which made it all the more lucrative.