Legislation unlocks project floodgates

Vietnam is gearing up for a busy year after the government finally signed two gaming decrees covering casinos and sports betting into law in 2017.

The law sets standards for the casino industry, such as a minimum capital investment of $2 billion and adds specifics such as the number of gaming tables and machines permitted per invested capital. Crucially, it also allows local Vietnamese to gamble for the first time in certain integrated resorts, such as on Phu Quoc and Van Don islands.

International investors have already been circling Vietnam and the establishment of a regulatory regime is expected to trigger further interest. For example, Las Vegas Sands, has been in talks with the government and has expressed an interest in a resort in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. So far the administration has given no indication it will permit an IR in the two main cities.

As of now, Vietnam has about 50 gaming facilities, with more than 2,000 slots and 400 tables. Union Gaming, in a report last year, calculated that these properties are likely generating between $800 million and $1.2 billion a year, but the firm noted this estimate is highly conservative.

Construction of new resorts is underway, with the Phu Quoc island integrated resort being readied to open around Tet in mid February 2018, the lunar New Year in Vietnam.

The Van Don international airport is scheduled to open sometime in March 2018 and the integrated resort there by the end of 2019. In January, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed in principal to allow a casino to be added to the Laguna Lang Co resort in central Vietnam, with a likely 2021 opening date.

At a working session with Thua Thien-Hue authorities on January 2, 2018, the government leader permitted the resort, which is operated by Singapore’s The Banyan Tree Holdings, to increase its total investment capital from $875 million to $2 billion, the Vietnam Investment Review reported.

Ho Tram begins condotel project

The Ho Tram Project Company said it has begun construction work on the next phase of the $4.2 billion Grand Ho Tram IR project in Vietnam, breaking ground for the Kahuna Ho Tram Strip Condotel and Villa Development. “With the commencement of piling today, we aim to be fully operational in early 2019. As the operator of the nation’s largest integrated resort, The Grand, we are uniquely qualified to develop a site that allows investors a chance to share in the fun and excitement that has come to define the Ho Tram Strip” said Executive Chairman of HTP Michael Kelly. Kahuna is the fifth phase of the Ho Tram Strip development, comprising of 164 condotel units, 36 double key villas and 8 villas with beach frontage.

Tourism arrivals lag ASEAN

Vietnam had 10 million international tourists in 2017, generating revenue of $17.6 billion, but still lags other Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, tourism officials were cited as saying. Arrivals are expected to rise to 13 million this year, though Vietnam’s overall ranking remains poor due to a lack of hospitality products, such as theme parks, Luong Hoai Nam, deputy director general of Vietstar Airlines, was cited as telling a tourism seminar.

The newspaper cited a Banyan Tree spokesman as saying the license agreement would pave the way to begin work on a detailed project with an international investor to operate the casino. Last July, Hard Rock International confirmed it was an interested party.

A project for an IR in the north, near the border with China, has also been revived. The Lang Son IR was granted a license in 2004 for a $5 billion mega-property with 100 tables, but work didn’t proceed. The project was to feature an international convention center, a mega mall, a 36-hole golf course and two fivestar hotels, as well as a casino. Ownership of the project is under negotiation and is being transferred from a Taiwanese group to a Chinese investment company.

A $4 billion project to build a resort in central Vietnam at the beach resort at Hoi An is also underway. Junket group Suncity Group Holdings, in late 2017, received shareholder approval for its acquisition of a 34 percent stake in the venture.

The Hoi An project will consist of seven phases to be developed over a span of 13 years, which includes tourism areas, an integrated resort complex and residential areas. 

Phase 1 will consist of a world-class casino with a total of 140 gaming tables and 1,000 slot machines, an ultra-luxury Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, a 445-room hotel and 200 buy-to-let condos and a championship golf course-country club by Robert Trent Jones II.

The government also set out its rules related to sports betting last year, though will only give out one five-year pilot license for soccer betting, which is seen as being the main prize. According to Augustine Ha Ton Vinh, an advisor to the government on gambling issues, well-known sports betting groups have expressed a strong interest.

Vinh is optimistic about the future of gaming in Vietnam.

“The New Year 2018 - the Year of the Dog will certainly see the gaming flood gate opened and investors as well as operators will have a very busy year realizing their dream projects now that the legal framework is in place,” he said.