NA discusses electronic gambling for foreigners in Vietnam

Members of the National Assembly Standing Committee yesterday discussed the issue of licensing electronic gambling for foreigners in the country.

According to a report submitted by Vuong Dinh Hue, Minister of Finance, to the National Assembly for further discussion, only places recognized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism such as hotels rated 5 stars or more, satisfy conditions for offering gambling facilities, such as security and financial resources.

Minister Hue said that the gambling business, approved 20 years ago, aimed at offering more entertainment activities for foreigners and encouraging more foreign investment in the country. He explained that this decree only referred to providing of activity like ‘winning games’ and was not an actual casino.

At a meeting in the National Assembly

According to statistics, there are 124 countries and territories allowed to have business organizations run electronic gambling.

The report presented by the Minister of Finance also showed that global sales of operations of prize-winning games like board games and online games in 2010 was estimated at US$109 billion. In the Asian market it was US$32.3 billion, in the European markets, the Middle East, and Africa it was $16.2 billion.

So far in Vietnam, 43 establishments have opened that provide jackpot and slot machines, in three-or-more star hotels and tourist spots, mainly in Hanoi and HCMC.

Minister Hue said that revenue from electronic gambling reached VND5 trillion ($238 million) last year and each establishment earned an average of VND20 billion ($952,000) from this business.

However, Hue emphasized the necessity of a new decree because some current regulations on licensing conditions were no longer suitable with the ongoing social-economic situation and newly approved laws such as the Investment Law or Enterprise Law. So far a licence is valid for 10 years.

Moreover, the lack of specific regulations on licensing and state management as well as punishment levels had led some establishments to allow Vietnamese to use the machines. This led to the Prime Minister's decision in 2007 to temporarily stop granting new licenses to operate such games, he said.

He said the Ministry of Finance should be responsible for State management in this field. However, the decree should define tasks for relevant ministries.

Hue said the drafting board would review the decree and get opinions from experts and lawmakers to amend unsuitable regulations in the draft decree. Locations, operation time, machine conditions, foreign currencies, rights and responsibilities of gamers and investors are also included in the decree. The Ministry of Finance and other relevant sectors and localities are responsible for inspecting the licensed facilities and punishing violators.

Most members of the Standing Committee supported the new decree, which stipulates that the games are only for foreigners and licenses can only be granted to hotels ranked with five stars by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which signifies that the hotels meet security conditions and do not lack financial resources.

However, Phan Trung Ly, chairman of the NA Law Committee, wondered about the similarities between casino activities and electronic gaming, which are subject of two different decrees.

"To avoid misunderstandings, there should be specific regulations defining what electronic gambling games are and how they differ from casino activities", he said.

Phan Xuan Dung, chairman of NA Committee for Science, Technology and Environment, shared Ly's idea and expressed his concern that lack of clear and specific regulations would lead to illegal investment.

Regarding the number of gaming machines in each establishment, Phung Quoc Hien, chairman of NA Finance and Budget Committee, said the number of gaming machines would be decided by the total number of hotel rooms.

He said it was necessary to raise the minimum number of hotel rooms to operate gaming machines or else regulate the maximum number of machines in each establishment.

He said members of the committee suggested shortening the license duration to five years from 10 years as drafted in the decree but raising the number of regular and random inspections to strictly monitor the operations of these establishments.

Lawmakers also focused attention on security conditions and punishment methods for violators, because according to them, this field should be strictly managed to avoid unnecessary disputes or illegal activities.

Ksor Phuoc, president of NA Ethics Council, said these establishments should be far from residential areas to avoid negative impact on local people.

Nguyen Van Giau, chairman of NA Economic Committee, said local authorities at all levels should have the authority to make inspections and determine punishments, so that they can take legal action where necessary. Management of foreign currency should also be a priority.

Concluding the meeting, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, vice chairwoman of NA, said electronic gambling services were fairly new to Vietnam so the decree must ensure strict management of the industry.

Source SGGP, Translated by Dan

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