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Vietnam, in spite of having a communist government, has undergone economic reform over the last few years, and this reform has led to gambling operations being created and expanded in the country, and therefore have become much more liberal towards gambling, just as long as it doesn’t involve their own people.
So they are a rather odd country in the respect that there a lot of casinos here and they also have some of the strictest anti-gambling laws in the world.
It’s not that the Vietnamese don’t like to gamble, but gambling is not permitted to be engaged in by Vietnamese residents, other than playing the lottery, which they have had here since 1999, or betting at a single horse racing track in Ho Chi Mihn City. (1)
The laws of Vietnam as far as being caught gambling are based upon the stakes, with the first level concerning very small stakes and social gambling, which involves a small fine and being essentially being put on probation, something they call non custodial reform here.
Being caught winning or losing between 2 million and 50 million dong (about $90 to about $2300) involves a more serious crime, where the fines go up, the probation is longer, and there is also risk of jail time. The third level is for those who have won or lost over 50 million dong (about $2300), and there is a minimum 3 years in prison for this one, which can be extended to up to 7 years, in addition to being fined, and this also applies if they show you are a professional gambler or have been found to be operating a gambling establishment. (2)
So these laws are very harsh you would at least think they would scare away a lot of people, especially players who like to play for any kind of decent stakes, and being thrown into prison for at least 3 years should at least scare a lot of people actually.
In spite of the harsh stance that the government of Vietnam has towards gambling, there has at least been some talk over the last few years of liberalizing it at least somewhat, and the creation of the lottery a few years back certainly was a big step in that direction. There’s even been some talk lately about making certain forms of gambling legal for Vietnamese.
There’s still a lot of opposition to that and we’ll have to see how this all plays out, however previous attempts have just led to the government digging in and in some cases even increasing the harsh penalties now in place.
The Live Poker and Gambling Scene In Vietnam
When you look at how serious the government is about punishing their people for illegal gambling, which extends to everything but the lottery, you would think that there wouldn’t be much gambling going on in Vietnam at all.
This is far from the case though, and the desire to gamble among the Vietnamese is something that even laws which are among the most severe in the world doesn’t stop.
In particular, the Vietnamese enjoy betting on a dice game known as ‘Bao Cua,’ which has been around for so long that no one is even sure how long, but it is very steeped in the culture here.
The Vietnamese people don’t just limit their gambling pursuits to this though, and they are also particularly fond of betting on sporting events, and they place about a billion dollars worth of bets a year on soccer matches alone. (3)
Cock fighting is another popular way to gamble among the locals, and you can even bet on fish fights here, where fighting fish go head to head and draw large crowds placing bets on the outcome.
Vietnam does have quite a number of legal casinos, 27 of them in total actually, and this includes some very nice venues. However, Vietnamese residents are not permitted to gamble there, and only those with foreign passports are allowed entry.
So foreign nationals do have access to a fair bit of gambling here including some legal live poker. The government may be ultra conservative toward their own people playing but they are more than eager to capture gambling revenue from non Vietnamese, particularly tourists, and the live gambling scene has really been growing here of late.
The Asian Poker Tour has even come to Vietnam now, and has scheduled a regular stop here, which certainly will help promote poker in the country. (4)
Poker is actually said to be pretty popular among the Vietnamese people already, in spite of their not being able to play it legally. There are reportedly a number of underground poker rooms that operate here in addition to the legal ones at the casinos, and the underground ones of course allow Vietnamese players to play at them. (5)
Online Poker in Vietnam
The government in Vietnam does not take any actions to block online poker sites or engage in other actions designed to prevent Vietnamese players from playing on them, and therefore players who are up for it can simply play wherever they want.
Vietnam has a very nice roster of professional poker players, such as Scotty Nguyen, Men “The Master” Nguyen, as well as a number of other successful players, including a lot of good online players as well. (6)
So while the legal poker rooms here won’t accept Vietnamese players, the online poker sites sure will, and online poker is very popular in Vietnam. All of the top players have left Vietnam to pursue their poker careers, but Vietnamese poker players do look up to them and poker is well ingrained in Vietnamese gambling culture these days.
It can be a little more challenging in Vietnam to move money in and out of online poker sites than it is in some other countries, but it’s not really that difficult, and there are even a couple of Vietnamese online wallets that can be used and that are popular with players there.
As far as the future goes, it may be quite some time indeed before we ever see things loosen up enough to have Vietnamese regulated online poker aimed at Vietnamese players, but things do seem to be loosening up at least somewhat when it comes to the government’s view of gambling by its citizens.
There’s some talk from the Vietnamese Finance Ministry about their looking to allow legal sports betting here, which is a good start at least. In the end they may end up casting a longer gaze toward all the revenue that they are missing out on as far as all of the untaxed gambling that goes on in this country, which is not a small amount. (7)
In the mean time, many Vietnamese online poker players continue to play at their favorite sites, in spite of what their government wants at the present time.