Football betting set to enter legal territory

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Without thorough preparation, introducing betting services could open a Pandora's Box of social evils, experts warn

A V-League match in progress. In a significant move, Vietnam, which has for long maintained that gambling is a social evil, is expected to introduce football betting services in the country by 2016. 

About 1,000 people were arrested nationwide for betting on football games during the Euro 2012 championship and more than 300 football gambling websites shut down.

But there is good news for gamblers in football-crazy Vietnam. They can look forward to indulging in their passion soon with officials announcing that they are considering legalizing football betting.

According to the Strategy for Vietnam Football Development by 2020 signed by Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan on March 8, relevant agencies will draft a pilot plan to legalize football betting.

By 2016, football betting will be allowed in Vietnam and revenues thereof used to fund football development in the country.

Currently, all forms of gambling, except on horse and greyhound races, are illegal in Vietnam. Vietnamese citizens are not allowed to enter casinos in the country.

With gambling for long considered a crime in the country, authorities need to take cautious steps to ensure Vietnam can reap the benefits of football betting and avoid harmful complications, experts say.

Huge profits

The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF), who has proposed legalizing football betting several times over the past eight years, believes that it will fetch huge profits.

"The approval of football betting is the right move," said VFF Chairman Nguyen Trong Hy.

"The development of Vietnam football, especially training young players, has faced many difficulties due to a lack of funds. Legalizing betting will generate huge profits. The Ministry of Finance is finalizing a draft plan and we think it should be carried out as soon as possible."

Hy said that Singapore earns about US$10 million from football betting every year while Vietnam loses at least $4 billion that local gamblers pay bookmakers abroad.

Commenting on the impending legalization of football betting in Vietnam, Mae Mua, representative of the UK-based sports marketing firm Strata said it was a waste that Vietnam had failed to earn the huge sums of money that had leaked abroad through illegal betting.

The number of illegal gamblers in Vietnam is very high and it is necessary to create a legal playground and profit from their punting, she said.

Le Hung Dung, VFF's vice chairman, also expects huge profits from football betting.

"In one of the plans, we expect to collect more than $4 million after four years and up to $100 million 15 years after football betting has been launched.

"With such huge profits, we can invest intensively in football and Vietnam will rank among Asia's top ten teams," he said.

Hy had said several years ago that betting would be allowed only on foreign and international matches because allowing it for Vietnam's V-League and First Division matches would create "complicate issues."

However, in a recent interview with Vietweek, he said it would be "wasteful if we forget the V-League and the First Division championships.

"It is one of the best ways to attract spectators to the stadium as well as earn money to invest in football," he said, adding that VFF will propose that the Ministry of Finance include the local championships in its draft plan.

Social evils

Several experts have warned, however, that having foreign bookmakers operate in Vietnam could be an unwise move without ensuring very strict oversight and management of this "sensitive" service.

A senior sport management official, who declined to be named, said a foreign bookmaker would certainly be more experienced and the betting system will be smooth, but "their prime target is profit and without the management of Vietnamese agencies, it can prompt a surge in social evils and other harmful impacts to the society."

He felt that a joint venture between a local company and a foreign bookmaker is a better choice.

Nguyen Minh Phong, an economist with the Hanoi Institute for Socio-economic Development Studies, said unless there was stringent system of regulations, football betting would be harmful to the society.

"Other countries equipped themselves with modern systems in auditing and managing personal incomes as well as an adequate legal framework before launching [football betting]. Vietnam is yet to have such systems and there will be unexpected consequences," he said.

Pham Chi Lan, a former advisor to the Prime Minister, said launching football betting services was not a bad move, but the government would fail to collect taxes if there was no regulation to manage the income of gamblers.

"The government will have another source of income and it has the authority to issue laws to manage the activity. However, the legal framework should be tight and modern infrastructure should be available before relevant agencies launch football betting," she said.

Meanwhile, other experts have expressed concern that betting on local championships could have local footballers fixing the results, given that many have already achieved notoriety for their involvement in gambling.

Midfielder Tai Em, a former member of the national team, said rumors of many players betting were common.

"When asked, they say they only bet a few million dong for fun. We only know a player has bet big money after he is seriously in debt," he said.

Pham Ngoc Vien, another vice chairman of VFF and a member of the team that drafted the strategy to legalize football betting in the country, admitted that it was difficult to prevent local players from gambling.

"It is mostly up to the players' awareness because the federation can only issue documents banning the act. It would find it difficult to monitor the activity," he said.

Hoang Manh Truong, former chairman of V-League club Vissai Ninh Binh, said relevant authorities had taken no action after newspapers and the public raised doubts of match-fixing at the 2012 Vietnamese Super Cup match between Xuan Thanh Sai Gon and SHB Da Nang.

"VFF and VPF (Vietnam Professional Football Company) officials pledged to ask for a police investigation but they didn't. The players who could have rigged the result will not be deterred if they just say things and fail to act."

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