Vietnam OKs casino gambling for locals

HANOI (AFP) - Betters in gambling-mad Vietnam will soon be allowed to stake their fortune in some casinos across the communist country, the government said Friday (Jan 20), in a pilot scheme aimed at opening up the lucrative industry.

The government has long-banned locals from gambling in casinos, despite their popularity among foreigners and hot demand from Vietnamese.

The government said Friday it would allow citizens over 21 years old with a monthly income of at least 10 million dong (S$635) to hedge bets in local casinos from mid-March under a three-year pilot programme.

"After three years... the government will decide whether to continue Vietnamese people's access to casinos," a statement on the government website said.

Many Vietnamese are fervent gamblers, despite the current ban on most forms of betting.

Some hedge up to tens of thousands of dollars on football matches, illegal lottery tickets or even buffalo fights.

The government is estimated to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue every year from illegal gambling.

The latest decree only includes entertainment and hotel complexes with investment capital of at least US$2 billion, the decree said, excluding most small establishments.

Casinos in Vietnam have to pay huge taxes, including a 35 per cent special consumption tax and a 20 per cent corporate income tax, according to legal documents.

The gambling ban in the Southeast Asian nation is regularly and widely flouted, especially ahead of major sporting competitions like the European or World Football Championship.