Football and a flutter go hand-in-hand in Vietnam making Euro 2016 a golden opportunity for fans to enjoy two national obsessions, even for those who have already bet their houses on the beautiful game — and lost.
Each major football championship is followed by a slew of reports of big wins, losses and suicides that fixate a nation with a particularly deep love for gambling, even though it is outlawed.
Speaking at a small cafe in Hanoi, Nguyen The Hoang recounts an astonishing gambling run during the last European Championship in 2012 that ended up wiping out his fortune.
“Football betting cost me almost half a million dollars,” the 58-year-old explains of a bad streak that cost him two homes and a restaurant.
“My wife hates football so much because it ruined our lives,” he added.
The father-of-two now washes dishes at a small street side noodle shop, where his wife prepares bowls of pho that bring in a meager $10 a day.
But his impecunious new life has not dulled his lust for a gamble, with Euro 2016 no exception.
The bets are now more modest, but Nguyen said he nearly doubled a $20 stake last week by backing England to beat Wales in their group qualifier.
Local Vietnamese watch an important game unfold at a coffee shop
The lure of striking it rich and a culture steeped in superstitions surrounding luck captivate many in a nation where rapid development has unleashed a hunger for new luxuries and larger slices of the economic pie.
Illegal betting typically spikes during major sporting events, such as the World Cup and European Championship, when millions of dollars trade hands and are wired overseas.
Hiding from henchmen
Exact figures are hard to come by. The government has not made any estimate and there has been little academic research on the phenomenon.
However a police operation against an illegal betting ring that was announced by local media earlier this month provided a rare window into the sums involved.
Officials said they had arrested 23 people from a single gang which had taken in a total of $340 million worth of bets over the previous 12 months.
With Euro 2016 in full swing, Hanoi pawnshops are filling up with smartphones, motorbikes, cars and even land certificates as gamblers rustle up cash for the big games — and to cover heavy losses.
Many are likely to find themselves bankrupt — or desperately hiding from bookies and their henchmen — by the tournament’s end.
Those who fail to pay face harassment and threats from their creditors, with debt collectors deployed to homes or workplaces.