Vietnam lawmakers offer cautious assent to soccer betting

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    Police raid a coffee shop where many men were involved in soccer gambling in the central city of Da Nang last year. Photo: Dan Tri

Lawmakers Wednesday agreed in principle with a government proposal to legalize gambling on international soccer matches, saying the legal framework for this should be strengthened to curb negative impacts.

As of now, Vietnamese citizens are allowed to gamble on local horse and greyhound races, but barred from casinos that are only allowed to cater to foreigners.

The government's draft decree dealing with betting activities related to horse races, greyhound races and international soccer matches was discussed at the Wednesday meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee.

The draft limits the maximum amount that can be bet to VND1 million a day and the minimum stake for each time is set at VND10,000.

However, many lawmakers found the range ineffective, saying it would not help achieve the targets set by the government to stop illegal betting and generate revenues for the state budget.

Phung Quoc Hien, chairman of the parliament's Finance and Budget Commission, said while his agency, which was tasked with reviewing the draft, agreed with the government's rationale for the decree, the small amounts allowed will not attract gamblers.

Truong Thi Mai, chairwoman of the parliament's Social Affairs Committee, also said she found the range "was not right," because it is not high enough to discourage low-income people and too low to attract those with high incomes.

Agreeing with Mai, Nguyen Van Hien, chairman of the Justice Committee, said VND10,000 is equal to the value of a bunch of water morning glory or a Vietnamese gourd. He recommended that the range be set at VND50,000 and five million.

If Vietnam wants to legalize sports betting and earn profit from that, then it needs to make it attractive, otherwise people like businessmen will continue to bet illegally online, Hien said.

Uong Chu Luu, vice chairman of the National Assembly, quoted official figures as saying that last year's revenues from greyhound and horse races were over VND1 billion and VND2 billion, respectively.

This showed that the income was "very small," so it is important is to set frameworks to keep the activities under control and prevent laundering schemes, he said.

National Assembly vice chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan agreed, saying that although the Standing Committee agreed on the legalization of sports betting, the government needs to properly estimate its positive and negative impacts.

"The target should be to create a legal playground to restrict negative impacts and illegal activities, not to collect revenues," she said.

According to the draft, people under 18, those with limited or no legal liability, and those who have illegally immigrated into Vietnam are not allowed to join the betting on soccer games.

It also regulates that businesses cannot allow people to bet if they receive letters from the gamblers' families, namely parents, spouses and children, asking them to do so.

A state-owned company will organize betting in international soccer matches with the minimum capital of VND500 billion. The Ministry of Finance will choose which matches and games for betting.

The organization of betting on horse and grey hound races will be open to limited companies with a minimum capital between VND300 billion-1 trillion.

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