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Interview with an American playing online poker in Cambodia

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We interviewed US grinder and blogger ‘kick2dante’ about his experiences playing online poker in Cambodia from 2012 – 2013. We also caught up with him on his time in the Philippines after that.

Why Online Poker in Cambodia

– What made you move to Cambodia to grind?

Black Friday. I had moved to Vegas around 2005 because my local casino had no action and I wanted to give poker a shot. I was already playing online but thought maybe live cash in Vegas with all the tourists would be better. Once in Vegas I quickly realized that I still preferred online play, and vastly preferred tournaments to cash games and didn’t have the bank roll for live tourneys.

After Black Friday hit I played live for a year, but 6 months in I was already life tilted by being at a casino every day playing above my roll. I decided it was time to move and had three options, the sane option was Canada. The semi-crazy option was Mexico. The crazy option was Asia and I went with option C.

I actually had my eye on the Philippines but when searching around forums I found out it would be much easier to get set up in Cambodia and get online quicker. In the Philippines you can’t open a bank account until you have an Alien Registration Card, whereas in Cambodia all you needed was a lease. There was a guy on 2+2 who owned a hotel in Cambodia and said he would give me a lease if I went there so off I headed to the beach city of Sihanoukville (nicknamed Snooky) even though I knew very little about the place.

Lucky Block casino

Drone video of Sihanoukville

– Is Cambodia a third world country? 

Absolutely. My very first night in Sihanoukville after taking the long bus ride I took a shower and got in bed and turned my laptop on. I saw something run across the floor out of the corner of my eye. I went to look to see what it was but it had disappeared. I got back in the bed with the pillows against the wall to lean on and 2 minutes later a rat jumped into the bed behind the pillows just inches from me. I instantly got half my money back for the hotel room and headed over to a different nicer looking hotel.

Cambodia is a very poor country and the average person only earns $90 a month (they use dollars there). I became friends with some of the people that worked at the hotel I lived at for 6 months and that is how much they made while having only one day off a month. You will see poverty everywhere you go. The country was devastated by their leaders for many years and it still hasn’t recovered.

In Sihanoukville there were quite a few power outages. If you’re going to stay there you make it somewhere with a generator or know where the nearest place with one is. Luckily 3G sticks work well enough for poker and they continue to work when the power goes out so you won’t miss any hands if you’re on a laptop.

– Is it safe in Cambodia now?

Yes and no. The people there are so poor if you make a mistake there is a good chance you will get punished for it. If you walk around in really nice clothes holding a $500 phone don’t be surprised if you get jacked. I always dress like I don’t have any money and have a $15 phone and never had any problems.

The only violence I saw my entire 7 months in Cambodia was started by some foreigners who said they got sold fake drugs by a tuk-tuk driver and wanted their money back. It was a white guy and white girl and they were slapping and pushing him while they were surrounded by 20 other tuk-tuk drivers. I thought they were going to get beat down but nothing ever came of it. Had they started throwing real punches I am pretty sure the rest of the drivers would have jumped in and it wouldn’t have ended pretty.

If anyone wanted to pull anything on me it would have been very easy. For my first 5 months their I would start some tourneys around 5pm and then stop around 10 or 11pm depending on how they went. After that I would head down to the beach and sometimes I would walk the beach for an hour by myself, as late as 1 or 2am. This was a very predictable pattern that went on almost every night and luckily no one tried to kidnap me.

Basically you just need to be smart about it. Bad things can happen anywhere but if you have a bit of common sense you will probably be fine. Just don’t flaunt money and give them a reason to target you.

The main crime that happens in Cambodia is people driving by on motorbikes and grabbing bags or phones or even jewelry. This can be dangerous because they may try to rip the bag right off your back or out of your hands. They seem to like to target women that have just left the ATM.

Cambodia Casinos - Queenco

There’s 120m of private beach for guests at Queenco Hotel & Casino

Cambodia Poker

– Can I play on PokerStars in Cambodia?

Yes I played on there almost every day. It took a bit longer to get set up on PokerStars than it did on PartyPoker. For Party all I had to do was send them a copy of my passport and Cambodian bank account statement. Pretty much all online poker sites accept Cambodia signups.

– Can I play online poker in Cambodia without VPN?

Yes, no VPN required. I wasn’t blocked from playing on any sites I tried. I played on Stars, Party, and Full Tilt and am not aware of any restrictions from any sites. Sportsbetting sites are open in Cambodia as well.

– How to get set up on PokerStars as a relocating US grinder?

I had to send them a copy of my lease, a bank statement from a Cambodian bank, as well as wait for a call to a landline phone, and finding a landline phone isn’t always the easiest thing in Cambodia. I was up and running on Party within a few days of arriving in Cambodia, while it took 10 days to get on Stars.

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– Best times to play poker online?

You will definitely need to be playing the night shift. I have been playing exclusively cash games for the last year and the best schedule I have found is to play from about 1am to 10am with some breaks, and then either sleep at 10am or 4pm. It isn’t the easiest thing to do but you will get adjusted to it soon enough.

It has been a while since I played MTT’s but I think my preferred schedule was to start around 5am. When I first arrived I was playing around 5pm until 11pm but the sites kept lowering the guarantees until those times were not worth playing. The real key is that you are playing when it is night time in Europe as that is where 90% of the online player pool comes from now.

– How do you deposit onto / cash out from poker sites?

Skrill and Neteller both work from Cambodia which means it is pretty easy. Once you get set up on them you are good to go and won’t have any problems.  Just send them a bank statement and your passport.

– Is it illegal to play online poker in Cambodia?

No it isn’t. There aren’t any laws about it at all actually. It is probably wise to not broadcast to everyone that you are playing, but there shouldn’t be any issues that come from it at all. Gambling isn’t illegal as there are live casinos in Cambodia where locals are allowed to play (unlike in Vietnam) and licensed tournaments since 2012.

– Live poker / casinos in Cambodia?

If you want to play live the two main venues in Phnom Penh are NagaWorld Casino and RiverKing. In the past Naga had the biggest and most consistent games but since I left Cambodia I’ve heard it’s kinda dead now and RiverKing is getting good – there’s a lot of variance in casino traffic so try both out. Check out Red Fox bar as an alternative.

In Sihanoukville there’s Queenco and Fortuna, two hotel & casino complexes, and other bars that run smaller cash games and tournaments. The locations tend to change quite often – best bet is to head over to Charlie Harper’s Bar that was running games every Sunday and Tuesday and ask the guys there that will be more up on the current local live scene. Golden Island guesthouse also has 1-2 cash games.

The Asian Poker Tour comes to Cambodia, cash games are good around that time. Queenco held the last APT Cambodia.

There isn’t much poker going on at Poipet casino (border town between Thailand and Cambodia), I’d skip that if you’re entering by land and head into an actual Cambodian city.

Queenco Cambodia Casino Dealers

Dealers at Queenco Casino, Snooky

Cost of Living in Cambodia

– How much does it cost to live in Cambodia?

I moved to Asia with a little under 6k life roll so saving money was a huge priority. I really think you could live for as little as $400 a month in Cambodia if you just wanted to get by.

You can get rooms in hotels for $5 a day (or hostels for even cheaper) without aircon that are right in the best areas of Sihanoukville. I was paying $300 a month for a room with aircon by the beach.

I could have saved some money getting an apartment but since I was new to Asia I liked being in the safe touristy area, and it saves both time and money to start your day in the place you will spend the most time. I saw some nice apartments for $150 a month but they were kind of far back off the main road.

Food is cheap, even western food. In Sihanoukville you can eat at almost any restaurant for $5 or less. If you want to buy and cook your own food you could probably spend $100 a month on food. I was pleasantly surprised at the food in Sihanoukville. In Phnom Penh there are some more expensive places to choose from but you can find plenty of $5 meals. I would highly recommend Chat n’ Chew in Phnom Penh.

I was probably spending about $300 a month on my room, $230ish a month on food, $35ish a month on Visas.

– How much to live in Cambodia for a year?

This is totally dependant on the type of person that you are. Cambodia can be as cheap as you want it to be, or it can be expensive as well particularly if you have no self control. Everything you would ever want would be available as there are lots of drugs and bargirls around that will kill your budget quick. There isn’t all that much to do so many guys there drink away their budgets as well.

If you really want to live cheap you could semi comfortable live on $6k a year. It would not be hard and it would not be that bad of a life. You won’t always be able to eat at restaurants, and you won’t live in the nicest area of the city. But you will be able to make it work.

For me in Asia the sweet spot seems to be right around $900 a month and that is what I spend no matter where I have lived. Phnom Penh would probably be a bit more expensive than Sihanoukville. Remember that when you first move anywhere there will be some settling in costs so don’t budget for $1k your first month.

Cambodia Casino - RiverKing

RiverKing casino has free beers, sandwiches and large tourney guarantees

Cambodia Internet

– How to set up internet in Cambodia?

Shared wifi is hit and miss but the hotels and restaurants that actually spent the right amount of money to get a good connection had strong and reliable signals. One of the nice things about staying in a tourist area is that there are so many places with wifi right around you. So if you are getting a bad signal at your place one day there are 20 other spots within walking distance to choose from.

I have heard getting your own landline will get you better internet, but since my guesthouse had free wifi and I had a 3G stick so it was unnecessary in my case.

– Options for mobile internet in Cambodia?

Believe it or not Cambodia actually has pretty good internet when it comes to 3G. The majority of my play was done using a Metfone 3G stick. It was $35 to buy and the load was very cheap as long as you didn’t download or stream with it. I can only remember one day that it was completely offline, and disconnects were pretty infrequent. As mentioned before the power went out often in Sihanoukville and the 3G sticks continued to work even when the power was out.

Metfone 3G was highly reliable back in 2012, I would imagine it is even better now and they probably have 4G in some places as well. Some of the Cambodia poker players use an app to combine their 3G and Wifi for a more reliable connection – choose ‘Speedify’ on Connectify.me.

Where to Live in Cambodia - Buy an Island

This Australian expat bought his own Cambodian island for $15,000

Where to Live in Cambodia

– Best place to live in Cambodia?

Depends what you want out of life. If you like big cities then you will definitely prefer Phnom Penh. It will have a lot more to offer, and the quality that you will find will probably be better as well. The restaurants are nicer and the girls are prettier. However you also have to pay a little more for it and put up with more traffic.

If you want a more laid back life then Sihanoukville is a very nice spot. In my opinion it is a great city for any Asia noob to start out. Maybe I just think that because it is where I started, but it has all the right things to make the adjustment easy. You can live right in the middle of the touristy area which is quite safe for very cheap.

There are lots of smiling white faces around to make you feel comfortable. The people in that area speak English better than other areas. There’s lots of the western food you are used to. The beach is right there and no better way to forget about the stress of a bad poker session than taking a long walk on the beach.

Negatives about Sihanoukville would be that you are quite far from any proper medical care if something goes wrong. This is also kind of true for Phnom Penh as well as many people will tell you that if you need major medical attention you should try to go to Thailand for it. Also the power outages in Sihanoukville get quite annoying and I don’t think they happen anywhere near as often in Phnom Penh.

Siem Reap is a small tourist town centred around the Angkor Wat temples and one strip of bars, most poker players would probably get bored after a short while living there. Nice place to visit for a holiday though.

Darlin Darlin NagaWorld Cambodia Casino

‘Darling Darling’ NightClub at NagaWorld, the largest of Cambodia’s Casinos

Cambodia Rentals

– How much are apartments in Cambodia?

I have heard in Phnom Penh that the number that takes you from an ok apartment to something nice and furnished is around $400 a month. Any cheaper and you will be dealing with a questionable area or not as nice of a place. For $400 you should be able to get a nice furnished apartment in a good area of the city.

In Sihanoukville unfurnished apartments go for as low as $150, and nice furnished places $500-$600. I met a guy there renting a large house for $500 a month a few hundred meters from the main road. My entire time in Cambodia I just stayed at hotels and guesthouses on Serendipity road and negotiated monthly deals because I don’t like signing leases. During low season I paid $250 a month, during high season the most I paid was $330.

– What about living in a poker house in Cambodia?

Cambodia would be a pretty good place for a poker house because you can rent houses so cheap. As mentioned I knew a guy who had a huge house for $500. You could easily have had 5 guys living in it if not more. I would guess there were 10 people living in his house but they were his Cambodian wife’s family.

If you just get a room at a guesthouse for a week while you shop around I am sure you would find a nice house for rent that would work.

– Cheapest place to live in Cambodia?

I am sure you could live quite cheaply out in the provinces, but as far as places any poker player would want to live I think it is probably Sihanoukville. Siem Reap may be the same but I would guess there are lots of overpriced tourist places that you would not be able to afford if you wanted to live cheaply.

In Sihanoukville you can eat at any restaurant on the main tourist road for $5ish a meal. There are some nicer places around and a few expensive resorts, but for the most part you won’t miss out on a small budget.

Cambodia Apartments - Poker

A grinder posted pics of his 3 bed 2 bath apartment, for $1.2k with private terrace and maid – View Post

Cambodia Visas

– How to live in Cambodia permanently?

One of the main pluses about Cambodia is the fact that you never have to make visa runs. There are two types of visas you can get when you arrive, one costs $30 and the other is $35. If you get the $35 option you can keep renewing your visa forever, or until the rules change. Quite a few Thailand expats fed up with the visa system there end up making the move to Cambodia or Vietnam.

– Cambodia 30 day visa on arrival?

You can get a one month tourist visa on arrival for $30 which allows you to extend 1 additional month. That’s the first visa type I mentioned above. Or you can get the second type which is a ‘business visa’ for $35. With that one if you then head to the nearest Cambodia embassy nearby, you can change it to a year long visa for $280. It can be extended indefinitely.

– Do I need an onward ticket to enter Cambodia?

No you don’t, unlike the Philippines.

Banking in Cambodia

– How to open a Cambodian bank account?

One of my biggest priorities when I first got to Cambodia was to get online and that meant I needed a bank account. I had heard that Acleda was the best bank but they would not allow me to open without some documentation from the Police.

I asked another bank and they said the same thing. Then I walked past “OSK” bank which is not a Cambodian based bank and they let me open an account with $20, my passport, and a typed out fake lease from my guesthouse. It was extremely quick and easy and got me back playing online in no time.

The bank was always empty so I never kept any money there and later went to get the piece of paper from the police for $35 which allowed me to open an account at Acleda. There are Acleda branches all over the country so I would suggest using them.

One thing to note, and this is the same with any bank I have dealt with in Asia: the branch you open your account with will be your “home branch” and any time you do business at any other location you will pay a fee. I tried to close out my OSK account in Phnom Penh and they wouldn’t even let me close it out because you can only do that at your “home branch” which was in Sihanoukville. Luckily I only had $12 in it.

Queenco Cambodia Casino Poker Cash Game

$1/$2 and $0.50/$1 cash games at Queenco

Living in Cambodia

– How big is the Cambodia poker community?

I am a loner and don’t really talk to expats so I am not sure about this. I know in Sihanoukville there were maybe 15 regs that would go to the different bars when they had their poker nights.

There were also a few casino grinders waiting for the tourists to roll in. I would assume the same in Phnom Penh. There’s a forum thread started by two brothers in Snooky who meet up to party with a fair few grinders.

– Do you need to speak Khmer?

There’s an ok level of English. If you decide that you want to live in Cambodia forever learning the language would be wise, I found it pretty easy to get by without it though. I spent all my time in the tourist areas.

There were times where it may have sped up the process of things, but it wasn’t really a necessity. I am sure the further away you get from the tourist areas the more helpful it would be.

– How to meet Cambodian girls?

In my opinion the dating scene is quite limited if compared to Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. Many good girls are waiting for marriage since virginity is culturally very important here.

I felt like most girls were either on that extreme or working in bars. Bear in mind though I wasn’t moving in many social circles, getting invited to weddings and working the crowd or anything like that. I didn’t want a long term relationship. Other grinders had more success dating in Cambodia.

Cambodian girls are certainly very friendly, smiley etc. with a curiosity about foreigners, but that’s a given anywhere in South East Asia.

Cambodian Girls - Poker

Perhaps work some ‘daygame’ at the Angkor Wat temples (left)

– Any scams in Cambodia to watch out for?

There are a lot of drugs in Cambodia and the biggest scam would probably be fake drugs, or selling you one drug and saying it is something else. Recently there’s been a number of cases of foreigners overdosing on heroin they were sold as cocaine. Also should be careful with your drinks as drugging people with GHB to later rob them happens from time to time. Outside of that I haven’t heard of much.

As with anywhere in South East Asia, tuktuks and taxis might overcharge you as foreigner – ask around for what the appropriate prices should be in your area. Good news is since they’re so cheap even if you’re ripped off it’s only a matter of a few dollars.

I’m now in the Philippines (read more here). Grinder ‘jsplit’ did a report of his 7 months playing poker in Cambodia in this post. For some good info search that thread for all his posts or those by user ‘poker_triad’.

I also have some Cambodia tagged posts on my blog.

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