Vietnam prepares stricter rules for casino industry

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Vietnam will require casino investors to have a registered capital of at least US$4 billion for their project and will not lift a ban on gambling for locals, a new draft policy says.

Under the Finance Ministry's draft decree, casino will remain a restricted business line in Vietnam and only investors with a minimum experience of 10 years will be allowed to enter the market, news website VnExpress reported Saturday.

Investors will also have to seek permission from at least five ministries before their project can be officially licensed by the prime minister. Applications for a casino operating permit will not be considered until construction of the project has been completed, according to the report.

Amid ongoing debates on whether to start allowing locals to gamble, the Finance Ministry has proposed that the government keeps the existing policy unchanged, with only foreign passport holders being let into casinos. Vietnamese employees at casinos should be completely banned from gambling too, the ministry said.

Nguyen Mai, former deputy planning and investment minister, told VnExpress that he agreed with sustaining the gambling ban on locals. But the proposed regulations might be too tough on investors, he felt.

So many requirements will keep investors out of the country, he said. "If the government is not confident about being able to prevent locals from entering casinos, it should just completely ban all casinos instead of setting out these rules for investors."

The new draft decree from the Finance Ministry, to be submitted to the government soon, is in line with views expressed by other officials earlier.

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Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh had said in March that Vietnam is not encouraging investment in casinos and the ban on locals gambling is non-negotiable. Some foreign investors are seeking a new policy that will allow locals to enter casinos, but that is not up for discussion, he said.

Vietnam now has four casinos, all in the northern region. Experts have said these casinos, of very small scale, have not contributed much to boosting tourism.

US casino groups MGM Resorts International and Pinnacle Entertainment are developing the $4.2 billion Ho Tram Strip with two casinos and five hotels around 80 miles southeast of Ho Chi Minh City. The first phase of the project, which was licensed in 2008, is slated for opening next year.

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