Vietnamese lawmakers urge decriminalization of gambling

By Thai Son, Thanh Nien News

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Many Vietnamese lawmakers have urged the government to stop considering gambling a crime.
Nearly seven decades after it was turned into a criminal offense and labeled as "a social evil" in Vietnam, gambling is now seeing a chance to become legal. 
During a discussion on amendments to the Penal Code on Tuesday, many lawmakers urged the government to stop considering gambling a crime. 
Pham Xuan Thuong from the northern province of Thai Binh said gambling now is everywhere, even at temples and pagodas, especially during festivals and holidays.
Thuong said the country seems to be tough on gambling, but in fact the enforcement of anti-gambling laws is not strict and effective enough. 
In several busted cases, police arrested many gamblers but then decided to drop charges anyway while those prosecuted ended up receiving suspended sentences, he said. 
"Lottery is a kind of gambling, so why don't we organize gambling activities in a more sensible and manageable way?"
Do Van Duong from Ho Chi Minh City also voiced his support for the abolishment of gambling crime.
"Gambling has existed for a long time. As long as they have money, some people will gamble. We should not worry that gambling will lead to crimes, but think about how to manage gambling activities," he said.
Other lawmakers said Vietnam is losing more than it can gain from outlawing gambling. Many locals will just go overseas to gamble. 
The lawmakers' recommendation came as the government sought to increase punishments for gamblers.
In the government's proposal, gamblers will face criminal charges when their bets are worth VND5 million (US$220), instead of VND2 million ($88) at the moment.
While that means only big gamblers will face criminal charges, the potential jail term is longer, starting at one year, instead of thee months. 
In more serious cases like when the bet value is more than VND50 million, offenders can be sentenced to at least three years. 
Gambling was outlawed in Vietnam in 1948. 
Last year the finance ministry suggested opening casinos to Vietnamese residents of legal age, instead of limiting them to foreigners and Vietnamese with dual nationality.
Meanwhile, the legalization of sports betting was first officially discussed more than five years ago. But the government is still struggling to finalize a draft decree aiming to regulate the business for horse and greyhound races and football matches.

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