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Motivated by revenue potential, government seeks to legalize gambling

A horse race at Phu Tho course in Ho Chi Minh City's District 11. A draft decree proposes legalizing betting on horse racing, greyhound racing and international football matches.

The first tentative steps are being taken toward legalizing gambling in Vietnam, with a draft decree looking to regulate betting on horse racing, greyhound racing and international football league games.

The government has said it hopes, with its latest move, to eliminate rampant illegal betting, "satisfy entertainment demand" and increase state revenue for investment in social welfare.

The draft decree, announced last week by the Ministry of Finance to collect feedback, is expected to be submitted to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for approval next month.

Gambling is currently illegal in Vietnam.

According to the draft decree, a person is allowed to place a bet of between VND10,000 (US$0.51) and VND1 million ($51) per day.

Betting is allowed on both local and international horse and greyhound racing, but the draft decree suggests that in the trial stage, betting is allowed only on international football league games.

However, foreign betting agents will not be allowed to open offices in Vietnam. The draft document bans the abuse of betting for money laundering.

Betting agents will be allowed to offer fixed or flexible prize money based on their revenue. However, a minimum prize of 65 percent over the ticket's price will be compulsory.

The draft decree proposes minimum capital for investors in betting services at VND300 billion for greyhound racing and VND1 trillion for horse racing.

The draft decree has been welcomed as a move that will boost the betting market and also benefit the tourism industry.

Nguyen Ngoc My, chairman of the Overseas Vietnamese Businessmen Club, said it was a "reasonable" move.

"The visa exemption among ASEAN countries has made it easier for Vietnamese people to go abroad. Every day, they bring money to Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines from betting that Vietnam bans," he said, adding that betting could bring in revenues of $15 million a month and create jobs.

Tran Vinh Loc, director of the Lac Hong Voyages travel agency, said betting could be a special tourism product that attracts more tourists from Asian countries.

"Travel agents have been hesitating whenever their [foreign] customers asked about betting services in Vietnam. And Vietnamese tourists have also showed their interest in betting when buying outbound tours," he said.

Some people have expressed misgivings about the draft decree. Many residents told Thanh Nien the maximum betting limit per day of VND1 million was too low.

However, Ngo Van Tuan, head of the Finance and Banking Department under the Ministry of Finance, said it was a suitable rate. He said the investment capital requirement could be reconsidered, adding that they couldn't propose lower rates in the initial step to avoid a mushrooming of betting agents that could cause management headaches.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Football Federation is unhappy that the document bans betting on local football matches.

VFF Chairman Nguyen Trong Hy said betting on local football matches could bring huge profits besides boosting local football.

"With betting services, football will surely attract more fans to the stadium," he said.

Hy also proposed that only state-run enterprises are allowed to provide betting services in the trial period. "It will take huge investment in infrastructure and personnel training at professional levels. The sector can cause losses if we are not careful in selecting investors," he said.

Minister of Finance Vu Van Ninh on Tuesday said the ministry would study the decree and consider allowing state-owned enterprises to invest in betting services in the initial stages.

He also said the decree is expected to take effect in 2012 at the earliest.

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