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Vietnam Legalizes Regulated Sports Betting

Map of Vietnam

The big news in the world of sports betting these days centers around the aftereffects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing the federal ban on betting on sports, but there are other jurisdictions around the globe that are experimenting with this type of gambling too. The Vietnamese legislature passed a sports betting law on June 14, 2018. The relevant provisions were added to the preexisting Law on Sports and Physical Training, and it passed the National Assembly by an overwhelming 457 - 1 vote. It will take effect Jan. 1, 2019, and will allowed authorized firms to offer sports betting albeit with strict government controls.

More About the Legislation

Unfortunately, the details of the sports betting regime that will be implemented are not precisely known. The government will come up with a list of sports that Vietnamese citizens will be allowed to bet on along with rules under which companies can obtain licenses. All betting will be conducted in local currency, the dong.

Vietnamese BanknoteVietnamese 20,000 Dong Banknote With Portrait of Ho Chi Minh

It's widely believed that this bill was based upon a decree issued last March that established a pilot program whereby betting organizations were allowed to accept bets on horse races, dog races, and FIFA-recognized soccer matches. However, no entity was awarded a license for sports betting, and thus, no wagering on the permitted athletic contests has yet occurred.

The new ecosystem is expected to include more varieties of sporting events than the three types of contests theoretically permitted under the pilot program. Also, the maximum daily handle of 1 million dong ($43) per individual bettor may or may not be raised.

Reasons for Legalizing Sports Betting

Man's Head With Gears

The main reason that most observers feel the government is proceeding with these plans is to cut down on illegal and offshore betting rings. Some estimates put the amount spent by Vietnamese citizens on sports betting at $800 million annually. Much of this action is placed with bookies in Macau, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Just a few months ago, two senior Vietnamese police officers were arrested for their roles in an online gambling ring worth millions of dollars. In January 2017, six people were detained as part of a similar crackdown against internet wagering.

Rather than spending the resources to combat this “social evil,” the authorities seem to be moving in the direction of regulating it. They would thereby retain for the state a fraction of the revenues generated rather than seeing this money exit the country.

Other Gambling Expansion in the Works

Gambling Implements

There have historically only been two major forms of real money gaming hosted in Vietnam: the state-run lottery and casinos that cater exclusively to foreigners.

The lottery sold $13 billion in tickets during the five years 2010 - 2015. This works out to about $27.50 per resident per year in this country of 94.6 million people. This might not sound like much, but it's more than 1% of the per capita gross domestic product. If the United States, a much wealthier nation, were to spend a similar fraction of its national income on the lottery, this would imply annual U.S. lottery sales of $209 billion: more than two and a half times the actual 2016 figure of $80.5 billion as reported by the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

Throw in the $800 million going to foreign sportsbooks and consider that Vietnamese lottery sales grew by 12% over the five-year period under consideration, and we begin to understand why the government wants to keep Vietnamese gambling spending within its own borders.

The Grand Ho Tram ResortGrand Ho Tram Beachfront Resort in Vũng Tàu
Onsite Casino Has a Poker Room, 500 Slots, and 90 Casino Table Games

Brick-and-mortar casinos are another source of gambling taxes. They have until recently been closed to Vietnam's own residents, but this changed in December 2017. Now, Vietnamese citizens are allowed to bet in casinos as long as their monthly income exceeds 10 million dong ($435). In a move reminiscent of Japan's proposed IR Implementation bill, locals who wish to enter a casino must pay a daily entrance fee of 1 million dong ($43).

The attempts to institute legal sports betting in the country can be viewed as just a part of a larger broadening of the overall gambling environment.

Poker in Vietnam

Poker Chips and Hole Cards

So far we've discussed sports betting, racetrack betting, the lottery, and casinos in Vietnam, but we've made no mention of poker. This is because the live poker scene in the country is tiny and mostly geared toward foreigners.

Still, we cannot help but wonder if Vietnam could become a center for live poker especially when we consider the immense poker success that many expatriate Vietnamese have had in other countries. World Series of Poker Main Event winner Scotty Nguyen, early poker coach Men “The Master” Nguyen, and J.C. Tran with his more than $12 million in live tournament winnings are just a few of the Vietnamese players who have made a huge impact on the poker world.

Scotty NguyenScotty Nguyen, Winner of the 1998 World Series of Poker Main Event

Fortunately, the anti-gambling laws seem to be enforced only against live games and the operators of online websites. Individual players who want to play on the internet appear to be mostly ignored by state officials, so online poker in Vietnam is definitely possible, and there are several sites that welcome Vietnamese users.

Of course, playing poker on your computer is an entertaining pastime even if you don't live in Vietnam. If you're from Canada, check out our page devoted to Canadian online poker for info on the best sites available to you. Americans can instead look through our U.S.A. online poker guide. If you're from Australia, be sure to check out our overview of Australian internet poker.