Vietnam’s pilot program to allow local residents to gamble in casinos appears to be less restricted than originally advertised, according to local media reports.
Last week, Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance released a draft circular adding more details to the government’s Decree No.03/2017/ND-CP, which authorized a three-year test of relaxing the country’s longstanding ban on allowing its citizens to gamble in the nation’s casinos, which are reserved for international tourists and Vietnamese nationals who hold foreign passports.
This pilot program was said to apply only at two casinos – one in Quang Ninh province in the country’s north and the other on Phu Quoc island in the south – neither of which has been built yet. But this limitation is absent from the draft circular, leading some Vietnamese media outlets to speculate that all of the nation’s casinos will be allowed to participate in the trial.
Regardless of how many casinos are eligible for the trial, the circular further details the financial hurdles local residents must clear in order to cross a casino threshold, including the ability to prove a monthly income of at least VND 10m (US $440).
Casinos are required to verify this income level through the inspection of a variety of documentary options, including personal income tax settlements, payroll stubs, rental agreements showing someone’s paying you VND 10m per month or bank statements showing sufficient interest income. Casinos have to keep copies of these documents for at least three years in case the government asks to see them.
Critics are already suggesting that these requirements will negate impulse visits to casinos, as Vietnamese nationals traveling on holiday aren’t likely to pack these documents in their suitcase unless they specifically plan to visit a casino during their trip.
Casinos will also have to issue customers with electronic cards in order to monitor their time spent on the gaming floor. These cards will be sold to the customer as a form of entry levy, similar to the one Singapore’s two integrated resorts require locals to pay in order to gamble. Vietnam’s entry levy has been set at VND 1m ($44) per day or VND 25m per month.
Vietnam’s willingness to relax its restrictions on local entering casinos – and cut the minimum investment threshold in half to $2b – has been viewed favorably by international casino operators, who maintain that the market only makes sense with a strong local component. However, the duration of this trial period may actually deter investment in the short-term.
In last week’s Q1 earnings call, Las Vegas Sands boss Sheldon Adelson reiterated the company’s interest in Vietnam, but admitted that his company was “not necessarily in love with the conditions of the three-year test period. We don’t want to spend billions of dollars and find out in three years they’ve changed their mind and they’re not going to allow locals in. So we want to see how that goes.”