Vietnam bets on loosening gaming laws to lure high rollers

Wed Feb 12, 2014 6:32pm EST
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By Nguyen Phuong Linh and Farah Master

HO CHI MINH CITY/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Nguyen Van Tuon seems unconcerned that his business driving Vietnamese gamblers across the border to Cambodian casinos is under threat.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said Tuon, waiting in the rain in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City for his first fare of the day, when asked about the prospect that Vietnam could soon allow its citizens to gamble at home.

"It'll make everyone even more in debt and create more social problems, so I can't see it happening."

His confidence may be misplaced. Despite its rigid stance on social order, the communist government and Vietnam's top tycoons are exploring ways to profit from what's currently illegal, while creating jobs and boosting tourism and tax revenue.

The government could soon legalize domestic casinos to lure billions of dollars of investment from major gaming firms, according to two sources with close knowledge of affairs of the National Assembly, which is due to debate the issue.

The sources, who requested anonymity, said the government had already undertaken research and was planning a pilot project that allows local punters to gamble, starting at a yet-to-be built casino on Van Don island near China.

Vietnamese are passionate gamblers, from clandestine card games to bets on European soccer with underground bookies, but the handful of casinos operating in the country now are strictly foreigners-only.

A change in legislation could make Vietnam an attractive bet for big gaming companies such as Las Vegas Sands, Genting Bhd, Nagacorp and Penn National Gaming, which have quietly expressed interest, should locals be allowed to take part.   Continued...

Men play cards during a ceremony in Hanoi February 10, 2014. REUTERS/Kham