Casino gambling should soon become legal to Vietnam nationals as the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of Vietnam is debating a law to let Vietnamese gamble at home, says the managing director of Donaco International Ltd, Joey Lim Keong Yew.
“They [the National Assembly] have come out publicly to say that this is just a matter of time until they open up” domestic casinos to Vietnamese, said Mr Lim.
“There are a lot of [Vietnamese] holders of a foreign passport who are allowed to enter casinos,” Mr Lim said, adding that a lot of locals still travel elsewhere to gamble in casinos.
“The government has estimated that around US$800 million is lost in annual tax on gross gaming revenue [GGR],” he said.
A change in legislation could make Vietnam an attractive bet for big gaming companies such as Las Vegas Sands Corp or Genting Bhd.
Mr Lim was speaking at a conference session at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia, which opened today in Macau.
Australia-listed Donaco International just opened a newly built five-star hotel in the northern province of Lao Cai, bordering China’s Yunnan province. The property can have up to 50 gaming tables and most of those are for baccarat.
Gaming revenue is mainly derived from VIP guests, most coming from mainland China, said Mr Lim. Registered residents in Yunnan province can cross the border to Vietnam without a passport or visa, making use of an official border pass.
“That’s the main reason we have done so well. Ninety-nine percent of our business is derived from mainland China and 90 percent of our business comes from what we call high rollers,” he said.
There are seven table game casinos spread across six provinces in Vietnam. There are reports of at least 43 slot clubs in the country, which have no permit for gaming tables.
Business looks promising as operators in Vietnam expect to tap the local market base, which is less volatile and more profitable than VIP play.
“However, the viability of the business in Vietnam needs a lot more transparency,” said Mr Lim, adding that the creation of a formal gaming regulator would be a good step forward.
The number of Chinese visitors to Vietnam increased 33.5 percent last year to 1.9 million people, but it may go down this year following deadly anti-China riots there last week.
Thousands of Chinese fled Vietnam since the protests began over a Chinese oil rig deployed in nearby contested waters. Tourism departments in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau have advised their residents not to travel to Vietnam.
Mr Lim said there are no particular reasons for concern and that all should be back to normal soon. “The prime minister office has issued a very strict order to all departments to crackdown on these protests,” he said.
The protests may impact tourism, but is not yet sure how hard the impact will be on casino operators there.
“With continued uncertainty in the situation at present, we have no comment on either present or potential changes to guest numbers from any of our source markets,” a spokesperson for the Grand – Ho Tram Strip casino-resort told GGRAsia.
The Grand is two hours away from Ho Chi Minh City and is the first of up to five resorts to be developed along the Ho Tram beachfront.
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"I am not going to speculate on what the [casino licence refreshment] tender requirements would be. I have full confidence and faith in the Macau government to treat everyone fairly"
Wilfred Wong Ying Wai
President and chief operating officer of Macau-based casino operator Sands China