Reports of the imminent opening up of the Vietnam casino market to local players have proven premature in the past. Recently, however, a few new potential casino projects have been announced within the country. It gives the impression that some investors may have inside information and that something may really be about to happen this time.
The restriction of the local casino market to foreigners and Vietnamese holding foreign passports—essentially the same business model as South Korea—has led many analysts to question the wisdom of investors pursuing plans for a capital intensive gaming resort such as Ho Tram. They argue that with an artificially limited market, it would be difficult to generate sufficient annual yield on the investment. As with South Korea, however, Vietnam could choose to allow one or a handful of casinos to open to locals—possibly locating them in less economically developed regions away from major cities. Ho Tram would certainly pass the test on that score.
In March, industry research organisation gamblingcompliance.com reported that the Vietnamese government had recently concluded consultation on a draft casino and electronic gaming machine decree first published in 2009. The website said the decree would further formalise casino gambling in Vietnam. It added the government had also hinted measures to curb online gambling were under consideration.
The Vietnamese government is nothing if not pragmatic and realises if it cracks down on online betting, it will have to give the locals a credible, locally managed alternative. That may account for why the country has reportedly also issued decrees on sports betting as well as a national lottery.
The lottery plan is said to have reached the bidding stage with interest from local and foreign operators, including Malaysian conglomerate Berjaya Group and Italy’s Lottomatica Group. Berjaya runs Berjaya Sports Toto, Malaysia’s only national lotto operator, with around 700 outlets. Lottomatica describes itself as the worldwide leading lottery operator in terms of overall wagers. Through its subsidiary GTECH, the group is also one of the world’s leading suppliers of delivery technology for lotteries and games.
Now sources within the country tell AGI that the government is actively encouraging new bids for new casino licences. That would account for the recent flurry of projects and announcements.
United States-based Emerging Market Group says it wants to set up a major tourism project in northern Quang Ninh province. The firm recently met provincial leaders to propose a US$3 billion project in the Van Don Economic Zone.
According to Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the project includes a five-star hotel and casino complex with around 2,000 rooms, a golf course, an international convention centre, a horseracing track, a high-rise apartment building and an entertainment park.
Another company, with the catchy title Silver Shores Hoang Dat Exceptional International Entertainment Joint Venture Company (or Silver Shores Hoang Dat for short), opened what’s described officially as “an entertainment facility for foreigners” in Danang in January. Officially, it’s not a casino.
The fact the USD168 million “facility” complete with a 600-room hotel, high-end villas, and a convention centre also reportedly contains ten plus tables for blackjack, roulette and baccarat and flies in Chinese tourists from Guangzhou twice a week to be “entertained” is neither here nor there.
The resort operators have—according to a report in VietNamNet Bridge—recently upset lawmakers in the country (not to mention an Australian casino company) by allowing it to be advertised to the outside world under the name ‘Crowne International Casino’.
As comical as this hair splitting is for outsiders, it does hint at the internal debate still going on in Vietnam about the very concept of casinos.
Our sources say the Vietnamese government doesn’t yet have a draft law on allowing locals in casinos. And some of the communist old guard within the government are reportedly strongly against it. It may be a question of waiting for these senior veterans of the Vietnam War to die or retire from politics before much can happen.
The fact Hồ Chí Minh—credited with founding the current Vietnamese state—was 79 when he died in office (as president of then North Vietnam) means the casino liberalisation lobby could be in for a considerable wait.