Is Vietnam Finally Going to Loosen Casino Restrictions?

There are a lot of places around the world that are aiming to get into the gambling industry, whether it is online or actually building new land-based casinos. The latest locale might surprise you: Vietnam. Nowadays, it's a place where the younger population has a lot of disposable income, and gambling is one of the ways they look to dispose of it. While the government is doing their best to resist that, with the public's level of interest combined with a slew of companies that are trying to enter the market it seems like the arrival of a casino is inevitable.

As of now, a lot of Vietnamese citizens will go to Cambodia to gamble, which is right across the border. That's lost revenue for Vietnam. Worse yet, a lot of hungry players will go to an underground place that they know and trust, which is a separate problem for the government. The business is there for the taking as Macau's gambling industry is in a slump, and Vietnam could easily step in to help fill that void. As of now, though, the government stipulates that only citizens with foreign passports are allowed to gamble. Beyond that, for anyone that wants to invest, they need to pony up $4 billion to get a new license.

There is only one integrated-resort project in Vietnam that has such a license, which is the Grand-Ho Tram, which is a couple hours south of Ho Chi Minh City and opened in 2013. There is another under development in Quang Nam, but that isn't even supposed to be open until 2019. That project is being run by Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, which is run by Cheng Yu-tung, a Chinese billionaire, although he is doing it with VinaCapital, one of the leaders in asset management, investment banking and real-estate consulting in Vietnam. Yu-tung is also working with SunCity, a promoter from Macau, but again, that isn't opening for at least three years and that's if all works out well.

There are actually eight licensed casinos in the country, so there is an active market, but they're smaller and they've been around for a while; we're not talking about a Las Vegas Strip or anything like that. Along with about 20 smaller slot clubs, there is about $300 million in revenue generated by these places. However, there is so much more on the table that the country could be getting if the Communist Party would loosen their grip a little and let casinos go into the urban market.

In May, it was announced that there was a party of investors that were led by Imex Pan Pacific Group, a property development company who were planning a $4 billion project in Ho Chi Minh City. That number should be enough to appease the government, but that's not even a certainty. It will get them to the negotiations table, though. There are a few other names connected to this project, such as Steelman Partners, a large architecture firm. Weidman Holdings is also due to work on the project and they're led by William Weidner, who is the former president and COO of Las Vegas Sands, which obviously knows their way around the gambling scene. That also drew Las Vegas Sands, who are led by Sheldon Adelson, with whom Weidner used to work.

There is optimism that the regulations will loosen up in Vietnam and that some swanky new casinos could be just around the corner. However, the same thing has been said for nearly four years now, so it's not a certainty by any means.