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Politics

Vietnam moves to allow sports betting as World Cup kicks off

Government hopes to stop outflow of money via international websites

Vietnamese soccer fans celebrate after the victory of Vietnam's under-23 soccer team against Qatar in the Asian Cup semifinals.   © Reuters

HO CHI MINH CITY -- Vietnam's National Assembly on Thursday approved a new law that allows locals to bet on soccer matches held overseas, as the World Cup 2018 kicked off in Russia on the same day.

Sports betting, including soccer matches, has been deemed illegal for decades in the communist-led country, prompting many fans to place their wagers through international websites. The latest move to legalize betting is meant to prevent money from flowing out of the country. The illegal betting market in Vietnam is estimated to be worth billions of dollars each year. The police last year discovered several illicit soccer-betting rings and online gambling worth more than $300 million.

However, the new law will not come into effect until next year.

Since April, locals have been allowed to bet on soccer matches that are on a list announced by the sports authority. This includes the World Cup, Asian Games, Southeast Asian Games and matches without Vietnamese team participation. The permission is based on a January 2017 decree by the government allowing betting on some sports. One soccer betting operator will bid for the single license in the five-year pilot program.

But some local soccer gamblers in Ho Chi Minh City told the Nikkei Asian Review that there is not a single legal soccer betting site or agent available in the country, except some horse-racing agents. One of the inhibitors is that betting operators in Vietnam will be put under the strict observation and control of relevant authorities. Vietnam is willing to grant a license to a foreign company, like BookMaker, to enter the legal sports-betting business, should it meet the strict requirements.

Industry experts had expected that local operators of sports betting will apply for a license after the gambling law is approved by the National Assembly. The Ministry of Finance will be in charge of issuing licenses and only the Vietnamese currency, the dong, will be accepted for betting. The money collected from betting will be a good revenue source for the state budget and will help develop local sports, especially soccer, according to the Vietnam Football Federation, one of the business lobbies supporting the law.

Vietnam has been gradually relaxing gambling-related regulations for residents. In 2017, the government announced that it would allow locals to enter casinos located in the country, paving the way for casino investors to build new facilities. Plans call for the first citizens to be officially allowed to gamble in a casino in Phu Quoc from mid-July, following a three-year pilot program.

The Vietnamese are known for their love of gambling. According to estimates, they spend at least $800 million a year on gambling overseas, mainly in Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong. Statistics show the Vietnamese spent $13 billion on the lottery between 2011 and 2015, driving an average 12% gain in the annual revenue of lottery companies over that period. Lottery companies are all state-owned enterprises and are not on the list of companies slated for privatization.  

As the country's coffers suffer from a revenue shortage, Hanoi is increasingly keen to seek untapped revenue sources to fill the deficit of $9 billion for fiscal 2018.

(Nikkei)

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