Casino and sports betting bills inch towards inclusion of locals

Vietnam’s casino industry took a giant step forward at the beginning of 2017, publishing new legislation that has been more than seven years in the making and opening a crack in the door for locals to gamble.

At the time, there were predictions that with a solid legal framework in place, Vietnam would be among the top five Asian gambling destinations within five years. There has undoubtedly been interest from foreign investors, but by no means a flood as operators waited for the detailed regulations fleshing out the initial decree.

Professor Augustine Ha Ton Vinh says the circular containing the details has now been approved and will go into effect on Dec. 1.

The Casino Decree 03/2017 created excitement because it allow locals to gamble on a three-year pilot basis at a limited number of resorts, including the Van Don Special Economic Zone in the far north, which encompasses the World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay and on Phu Quoc island in the south. The Phu Quoc island integrated resort is being readied to open around Tet, the lunar New Year here, in mid-February 2018. The Van Don international airport is scheduled to open sometime in March 2018 and the integrated resort by the end of 2019.

Vietlott CEO steps down

The chief executive officer of state-owned lottery company, Vietnam Lottery Co. Ltd. (Vietlott) resigned in October due to personal reasons, the Ministry of Finance says. Tong Quoc Truong had been Vietlott’s CEO since the company’s foundation in August 2012. No further reason was given for his departure. His deputy Nguyen Thanh Dam was appointed as the acting CEO.

Suncity enters services accord for Quang Ninh IR

Suncity Group Holdings has entered into a Technical Services Agreement with the developer of the integrated resort in the Quang Ninh Province. Suncity said the accord is the first step for the group to providing consultancy, advisory and technical services for large-scale resorts with gaming and entertainment facilities. It added that it will continue to expand its business scope in order to maximize returns for its shareholders. The opening date of the IR project is set for March 31, 2019.

The Grand Ho Tram, Vietnam’s biggest IR, has also submitted an application and is currently the only property that meets the investment criteria, while Donaco International has also said it would like its Aristo International resort to play a part.

Capital reduction The new gaming decree stipulates the minimum capital required to set up at IR should be $2 billion, down from $4 billion set out in earlier versions of the bill. It also sets out the number of gaming machines and tables permitted per invested capital.

According to a report from Union Gaming earlier this year, Vietnam’s casinos and slot parlours are likely generating between $800 million and $1.2 billion in annual gross gambling revenue, based on figures extrapolated from the three listed casinos, though it concedes this estimate may be too conservative. At the moment, Vietnam has about 50 gaming facilities with more than 2,000 slots and almost 400 tables.

Casino giant, Las Vegas Sands confirmed during the year, it would still be interested in investing in Vietnam were the right opportunity to emerge. “We have been working continuously with the Vietnamese Government for many years, way before the decree was issued,” managing director for global development, George Tanasijevich, told the Vietnam Economic Times, adding the group was eyeing an IR in either Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. As yet, the government has shown no inclination to allow resorts in either of the country’s two main cities.

Hard Rock International is also moving ahead with plans for an IR at the Laguna Lang Co beach resort. The provincial committee of Thua Thien-Hue has asked the government’s permission to increase the investment capital of the project to US$2 billion, as well as to open a casino in the complex, Vietnam News reported.

The Lang Son integrated resort at the Vietnam-China border in the North, with a gaming license issued in 2004 for 100 tables,

is being revived. The project, spanning more than 200 hectares, originally launched as a $5 billion mega project with an international convention and exposition center, a mega mall, a 36-hole golf course, 2 five-star hotels and a casino, and an upscale residential area, and has been dormant for 13 years. The project ownership is being negotiated and transferred from the Taiwanese owners to a Chinese investment company.

Junket action

Aside from LVS and Hard Rock, much of the interest this year has been from junket investors keen to enter the market.

Macau’s Suncity Group Holdings has been particularly active. Through a local unit, the company is buying a 34 percent stake in an integrated resort project in Hoi An South for an aggregate consideration of HK$600 million ($76.8 million).

The $4 billion property is being developed jointly with Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook Holdings and Vietnam’s VinaCapital Group. It covers an area of 985 hectares and is scheduled for completion by 2035. 

The junket group also signed an accord to provide technical and consultancy services to an IR in Quang Ninh province in the Van Don Special Economic Zone.

The country’s largest IR, the Grand Ho Tram, also took steps to move to the next stage of development, launching the KAHUNA Ho Tram Strip condotel and villa project. The 244 key resort development is made up of 164 condotel units situated in a 12-storey tower, 36 double key villas and 8 beach front villas all for long term lease. Investment costs range from VND 2 billion (US$88,800) for a one-bedroom unit to VND 20.5 million (US$900,000) for a villa.

While the casino decree and guidelines are now in place, the sports betting guideline, legalizing betting on international soccer, horse and greyhound racing, is being finalized. Phone betting was permitted, but no online gambling.