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Casinos could feel heat from Vietnam sports betting

A man plays poker at a casino in Preah Sihanouk in 2014.
A man plays poker at a casino in Preah Sihanouk in 2014. Eddie Morton

Casinos could feel heat from Vietnam sports betting

Cambodia's gaming industry could see increased competition following a decree by the Vietnamese government that will allow its citizens to place bets on regulated sporting events, though the limited scope of the legislation should soften its impact, a government official said yesterday.

On Friday, Vietnam’s government issued a decree aimed at curbing widespread black market betting on international sporting events by launching a pilot program that would allow Vietnamese citizens over the age of 21 to place wagers on football and horseracing. Betting on sports events has proliferated in illegal gambling dens and online betting rings despite frequent crackdowns by authorities.

The decree follows a general easing on the country’s long-standing gambling ban. The Vietnamese government announced last month that some citizens would soon be able to gamble in two yet-to-be-built facilities located in the north and south of the country.

According to the latest edict, punters will only be allowed to place bets on FIFA-recognised international football matches, with a maximum wager of $45 per match.

Ros Phirun, deputy director of the finance industry department at Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, said the new legislation could cut into the flow of Vietnamese nationals crossing the border to place bets in Cambodian casinos.

“Changes in Vietnam gambling laws will lead to increased competition for Cambodia’s casinos and will likely affect local businesses,” he said. “Cambodia’s casinos have been typically operating without much immediate regional competition.”

While he could only speculate on how much Vietnam’s sport betting pilot program, which goes into effect in late March, would affect the Kingdom, he said a far greater threat to Cambodia’s casinos would be if Vietnam were to ease restrictions on online gaming.

“For Cambodian casinos, we allow all types of games online and that includes live betting, sports and lottery,” he said. “While it is still a relatively new market it attracts a lot of Vietnamese gamers.”

Phirun noted that sports betting operations were typically run out of brick-and-mortar casinos in Bavet and Sihanoukville and that 35 of the Kingdom’s 65 licensed casinos had launched online gaming portals.

However, he was quick to note that Cambodian operations were far from dependent on Vietnamese clientele, adding that online portals give local casinos access to the global gaming market.

Oliver Massmann, general director of law firm Duane Morris Vietnam, said in its initial form, Vietnam’s sports betting legislation falls short of opening up large-scale competition.

“As there is only one sport betting operator allowed from the effective date of March 31, and the bet is allowed only for international soccer matches, the regulation will, on the one hand, formalise sports betting,” he said in an email.

“But on the other hand, it will create a monopoly and unfair competition.”

He said the stakes are high for investors to be selected for the five-year pilot program, which requires that operators have a minimum capital investment of $459 million.

“If [investors] fail to be selected, there is a high possibility that illegal soccer betting will continue their operations,” he said. “It would be better if the government sets out very strict regulations instead of fixing only one entity to do international soccer betting.”

Massmann said recent moves by the Vietnamese government showed a willingness to open up the potential domestic gaming market to attract investors.

“But, we should wait and see what happens in the next three to five years after the trial period to see whether such activities will be further allowed,” he said.

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