Revised casino decree to further relax restrictions

08:00 | 31/08/2018

Major casino development in Vietnam has been on a slow and rocky path, but the country has recently permitted integrated resorts to feature casinos and open for local guests, with business conditions expected to loosen even further in the near future. However, developers still have a lot of work ahead of them.

revised casino decree to further relax restrictions
Vietnam loses $800 million every year from local gamblers going to other countries, Photo: Le Toan
revised casino decree to further relax restrictions

The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is currently revising Decree No.03/2017/ND-CP governing the casino business in Vietnam to cut a number of investment conditions on segments such as casinos, lotteries, and betting. If approved, this revised decree will expectedly be a boon for investors implementing registered projects.

Regarding lottery, electronic games for foreigners, and casinos alone, the MoF proposed to cut eight conditions and simplify two. Electronic gaming services for foreigners would have three fewer conditions, while casinos would be subject to one fewer condition, with an additional condition simplified. In addition, horse and dog racing would see two conditions removed and four simplified.

Up until Decree 03 was issued in January 2017, after about a decade of waiting, only people with foreign passports were permitted to play in Vietnam’s casinos and e-gaming clubs. Locals have had permission to gamble in the casinos on a trial basis since the decree became official in March 2017.

Casino operators have been moving ahead with this opening of the market. Several large-scale projects have been in the works ever since. By the end of 2017, seven casinos had been granted licences and three entered the construction phase.

Having opened its doors in 2013, $4.2 billion The Grand Ho Tram Strip was the first and biggest licensed integrated casino and resort in Vietnam. Over the next three years, much progress is expected for this project, including its second resort, a waterpark, a 2,000-plus person amphitheatre, a condotel development, villas by the golf course. Additionally The Bluffs has almost finished its complete overhaul and the development of its own charter airport.

Further large-scale developments in the works include the $4 billion Hoiana, invested by Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook, SunCity, and VinaCapital. With the total investment of $4 billion, the complex is scheduled to open in 2019 and will feature a casino resort and a golf course. The project will continue to be developed over the next 10-15 years to include additional hotels and residential zones, a convention centre, and other facilities.

Meanwhile, in the central coastal city of Danang, the Crown International Club (formerly Silver Shores Casino) – a small, privately owned beachfront casino – has emerged as one of the most popular sites for wealthy Chinese visitors to place high bets.

Xu Chun, executive vice president of its investor Silver Shores Investment Development, told that Silver Shores has had long-term investments in Vietnam since 2006 and has seen good revenue in more than 12 years of operations.

“We are confident that the Crowne Complex in Danang will become a new, attractive destination for both local and foreign customers for its casino, shopping mall and other leisure facilities,” Chun said.

In May 2018, the Vietnamese government granted a casino licence to Laguna Lang Co in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue. Its first-phase development with an investment of $285 million comprises the Banyan Tree and Angsana hotels, an 18-hole golf course, luxury private villas and residences, convention facilities, and recreational activities.

Ho Kwon Ping, executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, was quoted at the licence granting ceremony as saying that the issuance of the casino licence is a good start for its second phase. “Many hotel investors and development funds have been awaiting a casino licence and the selection of a casino operator before finalising their investment into our phase 2,” Ping said.

The expansion project, running from 2018 to 2022, will see Laguna Lang Co’s investment capital increase from $875 million to $2 billion and include international-scale casino operations.

Apart from casinos, electronic gaming clubs with slots and electronic table games are operating in 20 upscale hotels in Vietnam. Some are located in, or just off, the hotel lobby, and others are situated in second- or third-floor areas that include karaoke bars and lounges as well as private karaoke suites, mostly centred in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Augustine Ha Ton Vinh, an expert in the casino business, said that Vietnam loses about $800 million per year due to visitors travelling abroad for gambling.

Augustine Ha Ton Vinh - Casino expert

revised casino decree to further relax restrictions

Foreign investors and gaming operators have been eyeing Vietnam for almost a decade. This clear-cut regulatory framework has lifted the barriers to entry for these global players.

I have not seen the details of the proposed decree revisions, but I have high hopes that they will offer more favourable conditions for investors, based on the fact that the current decree was hailed as a breakthrough by both domestic and international investors. Many of them are watching the development of the industry closely and have eyed opportunities to enter the new market.

Investors already look at Vietnam as an outstanding destination for tourists and a new mecca for the gaming industry. The development of the industry, coupled with easy access to integrated resorts by local and foreign tourists, will certainly benefit investors as well as the economy. I see the Vietnamese government is fully behind a plan to create a new gaming industry and will welcome investors as well as operators to help develop the country’s new gaming resorts.

Hong Nam Pyo - CEO and chairman, GOMAX

revised casino decree to further relax restrictions

There are no official statistics about the amount of foreign currency flowing into betting companies in Vietnam, but analysts say it is a huge amount.

The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has proposed to cut some of the red tape for a wide range of industries, including the betting, casino, and lottery industries. This is, of course, good news for us. It has not been specified what obstacles could be eliminated or amended. However, the simple fact that the MoF wants to make monumental changes is a step in the right direction

However, we need more to reduce illegal betting and gambling in the country. Illegal betting and gambling can create obstacles for the sound development of society. Under the new legislation, betting on football as well as horse and dog racing will be implemented sooner rather than later, creating many new service and entertainment jobs in Vietnam and motivating the development of this new industry.

GOMAX applied for a licence to invest in an international-standard horse racetrack project in the northern province of Vinh Phuc in 2005, but had to wait for a long time to reach the finish line for implementation.

Michael Kelly - Executive chairman, ACDL

revised casino decree to further relax restrictions

The government is currently revising the decree to regulate investment conditions in the field, including revising some conditions for the casino business. We are looking forward to having an opportunity to discuss this matter with the Ministry of Finance. Therefore, while we welcome any changes or new regulations that foster increased investment in Vietnam, it is inappropriate to comment on its specific contents in the public domain.

The Grand Ho Tram Strip celebrated its fifth anniversary in Vietnam last month. Over the years, we have experimented with different positionings for the resort and landed on entertainment as our key and overriding theme.

The ongoing and sustained investment into our property is delivering the returns that we seek, with record occupancy in both 2017 and 2018 to date. In fact, the property has produced positive operating results for the past 21 consecutive months, commencing in November 2016.

Ngoc Thu Oanh

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