Cautious roll of dice

October 15, 2012 | 15:11
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Most lawmakers support the issuance of a specialised decree on prize-wining gaming services, but want to tighten conditions for opening a gaming service facility to minimise impacts on society.

Gaming services in Vietnam is currently restricted to foreigners

In a meeting last week of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee discussing the draft decree  proposed by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), most deputies admitted that such services had significantly contributed to encourage foreign direct investment and tourism development Vietnam, as well contributed to state budget and created jobs for local workers.

They also proposed the government to complete the draft soon in order that the new decree could be applied from January 1, 2013. However, lawmakers suggested tight regulations on conditions for investors to obtain investment licences in this sensitive business.

Under the draft decree, investors can obtain a licence for running an electronic gaming facility if it meets criteria such as  running a hotel or resort with at least five-star rating, and if the gaming facility is separated from other hotel facilities. The hotel or resort must be the one regularly receiving a large number of foreign guests.

Critics noted that the draft decree  now under the government’s consideration does not limit the number of electronic gaming service facilities nationwide, unlike the practices of  Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and many other countries.

Since 1992, when electronic gaming services were first allowed in Vietnam, 43 electronic gaming facilities have been licenced nationwide, according to the MoF. The facilities were mostly licenced at hotels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the two biggest cities of Vietnam.

Nguyen Kim Thoa, chairman of the National Assembly’s Defense and Security Committee, said the decree would have to limit the number of gaming facilities nationwide as this business was not encouraged in Vietnam.

“It is likely that electronic gaming services would develop widespread after regulations under the draft decree are applied, not only big cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh but also any other places with five-star  hotels,” said Thoa.

Although the draft decree maintains banning Vietnamese from entering gaming facilities, Thoa’s reaction raises concern that a boom in electronic gaming services could be beyond the control of the government and lead to unexpected social consequences.

Ksor Phuoc, chairman of the NA Ethics Council, said these electronic gaming facilties should be far from residential areas to avoid negative impacts on local people. Regarding the ratio of electronic gaming machines in each facility, the MoF proposed to regulate one machine for each five rooms.

Tao Van Nghe, general director of five-star Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, said that drafters needed to explain for service providers about the reason for this regulation.

“Under the draft regulation, the number of our gaming machines exceeds the would-be permitted ratio,” Nghe said. “So what will we have to do with tens of excessive machines?”

But Phung Quoc Hien, chairman of the NA Finance and Budget Committee, said the ratio should be higher, meaning that the total number of gaming machines in a facility would be further limited.
Hien also said that members of the committee suggested shortening the licence duration of a gaming facility to five years from 10 years as drafted, but raising the number of regular and random inspections from once every five years to once per 1-3 years.

“Electronic gaming services are quite new in Vietnam so new regulations must ensure strict management on this business,” said the National Assembly’s Vice Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.

By Nguyen Trang

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