he issue of whether to allow Vietnamese punters to gamble at home sparked a fierce and lengthy debate over the last few years.However, Vietnam took one step closer to lifting the ban on local gamblers after the finance ministry suggested that any Vietnamese above 21 years of age with adequate financial ability should be able to play at casinos operating in the country.
The proposition, described in the ministry’s latest amendment of a draft decree on the gaming business, is seen as “positive progress,” as in its previous draft versions the ministry proposed that only international gamblers and foreign passport holders should be permitted to enter casinos in Vietnam.
Many industry insiders and experts voiced support for the proposition after being asked to join a recent roundtable discussion by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
A manager of a five-star hotel based in Ho Chi Minh City, which legally runs prize-winning electronic games for foreigners, said the latest proposal is “a good sign for gambling industry investors.” “This will help Vietnam lure more foreign visitors, increase tax collections, and prevent its residents from wasting money at overseas casinos,” he said, while asking not to be named.
He underscored the importance of having strict regulations for Vietnamese gamblers. “Gamblers have to pay a fee of 100 Singaporean dollars [roughly US$80] to be able to enter casinos there, so I think the fee should be around US$ 300 for Vietnam,” he suggested.
Nguyen Thanh Dam, deputy general director of Vietlott, a lottery company based in Hanoi, also believes it is time for Vietnam to allow local gamblers to play in their own country. “The domestic demand for playing at casinos is not small, as a number of Vietnamese are gambling in Cambodia and even Macau,” he said.
Dam said Vietnam should follow the model of Singaporean casinos, which set an age limit for the gamblers, as well as require entry fees that are high enough to limit the number of low-income visitors.
Tran Quang Chieu, a member of the National Assembly's Finance and Budget Committee, said it is possible to allow Vietnamese residents to gamble at domestic casinos under strict management. “People who can prove they have adequate financial ability and behave properly should be allowed to enter casinos in Vietnam,” he said.
Chieu also dispelled a rumor that Vietnam would allow its residents to gamble at home simply to make up for slumping tax collections.
Vietnam is home to seven operating casinos, all open to international gamblers and foreign passport holders only. The first venue, Do Son Casino, was inaugurated under a pilot program in the northern province of Hai Phong in 1996. Quang Ninh, another northern province, has two casinos, in Mong Cai City and Bai Chay beach resort. Bac Ninh, Lao Cai, Da Nang, and Ba Ria-Vung Tau have a casino each.
The developers of two tourism and entertainment complexes in Phu Quoc and Quang Ninh also have in-principle permission to include casinos in their projects. Besides meeting required investment standards, casino operators must have a minimum registered capital of US$ 4 billion in order for a gambling venue to be licensed to open a casino in Vietnam.