Football fever means gambling fever in Armenia, as EuroCup 2004 brings out the bettors in numbers that would defy impressions of a country suffering economic hardship.
“In the streets of Yerevan people talk only about money won or lost as a result of betting,” says 46-year-old engineer Albert Arakelyan “They say people win from $20,000 to $50,000. I have no idea whether I should believe or not as I myself have hardly won $40 and then on a bet that was a little less than that sum.”
Throughout the capital, storefronts that might once have been cafes or shops have been turned into gambling parlors since June 12, when the first round of European Championship play began. Punters are invited to risk their drams at places called “Toto”, “Eurofootball”, “Vivaro” or “Parimatch”.
“It took a little time (almost three years) for this new phenomenon to successfully find a place in lives of Armenians, especially within the last time period,” says the manager of one of the Vivaro parlors. “And then when they are opened and begin functioning it means that it is done exactly at the proper time and people need them.”
During every football match gambling parlors turn into small football fields with passionate fans and game-addicts. Ten to 15 minutes before a match begins (which, here, means midnight) people queue to get to a person who registers their bets. After that heavy smoke of cigarettes begins gently curling in the air and throughout the hall the smell of beer mixes with the smoke and the noise of hope riding on the feet of foreigners.
Vardan Sargsyan, 31, says he prefers watching matches at gambling parlors with his friends, because at home there’s a struggle for the TV with women and children of the house.
“Of course, I make my bets but I don’t bet for money. I like watching matches. And when you bet you get all excited in watching matches,” he says.
This EuroCup season (it occurs every four years), Armenians have also discovered on-line betting (www.parimatch.com).
Artur Mkrtchyan, manager of an Internet club in Echmiadsin, says 40 visitors a day come to check their winnings and loses in cyberspace.
of places for betting on football
“Many of them visit the club many times a day. And often when they see they lost they begin to curse, forgetting where they are,” Mkrtchyan says.
Though emphatically a male-dominated environment, a few brave Armenian women have cracked the gender boundaries of football gambling.
Lianna Manukyan, 25, says she was infected with football fever by her husband, Ashot. They make bets together and are fairly successful.
“It is easy money. You win without spending, of course, it is necessary to make bets constantly,” she says.
Football gamblers are offered a variety of betting opportunities, including: Which side would win, which side would score, in what minute a team would score, who would score the goal, would there be a penalty kick, would there be yellow card . . . Every bet has its odds.
Anahit Margaryan, 40, complains that under age children, including her 13 year old son, become involved in football wagering.
A note “bets are not taken from those under age of 18” is attached in every such gambling parlor. However, the reality is different.
Anahit’s son, Vahe, says if parents give him 100 drams (about 2 cents) he together with his friends runs to make bets.
“Sometimes we win, and go to eat ice cream,” he says.