GAMBLING IN VIETNAM

GAMBLING IN VIETNAM

Gambling is widespread in Vietnam, despite being banned, and millions of dollars often change hands during football matches. In the mid 2000s, Vietnam's soccer betting market alone was estimated to be worth about $1 billion a year.

AFP reported: "Gambling is no longer completely outlawed in Vietnam as it was in the 1970s and 1980s when the communist authorities regarded it as an unacceptable capitalist pursuit. However, it remains tightly restricted, creating a lucrative industry for the country's criminal underworld. Vietnamese law only allows limited betting on the state-run lottery and at the old colonial racecourse in Ho Chi Minh City, which was resurrected in the early 1990s. Punters are also allowed to have a flutter at a new greyhound stadium in the southern coastal resort of Vung Tau. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 23, 2002]

Cock fighting and fish fighting are popular. There are shops that specializes in selling tropical fish, including the Siamese fighting fish. The scenes in the film "The Deerhunter" which show Vietnamese betting on Russian roulette is a Hollywood fabrication—and in the eyes of many, a racist fabrication. In Vietnam, nobody has ever heard of such a thing.

Fish fighting is old pastime that is mainly practiced by old timers and villagers. Male Siamese fighting fish—which by their nature go after each other—are kept in separate jars until the fight begins. Hundreds of dollars can be bet on these fights and huge crowds will form around the little jars where the fights take place. For More on Fighting Fish, See Thailand

See Soccer.

Bau Cua

Bau Cua—also known as gourd and crab or ba`u cua cá cop ("squash-crab-fish-tiger")— is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice. Often played around Tet (Vietnamese New Year), the game has been around for so long that its origins are obscure. According to legend, the game was invented in northern Vietnam by workers in rice paddies while they waited for the harvest season to start.The game is similar to roulette, but players put money on pictures of a gourd or animals — crab, deer, chicken, fish, shrimp — instead of numbers. And instead of a spinning wheel, the dealer rolls three dice. The player wins when that choice is rolled.

The six sides of the die, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the better receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the better receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the better receives three times their money. For instance, if you place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and one stag, then you would get $6. Bau cua tom ca is similar to Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America. Bau cua tom ca is often played at Tet (Vietnamese New Year). [Source: Wikipedia ]

Jagged Noodles Blog reported: "The traditional Vietnamese Tet game called Bau Cua Ca Cop, which, translated, means "Gourd Crab Fish Tiger," is a traditional gambling game that is beautiful in its simplicity. A board with six circles is placed on the table or floor. In each of the circle is one of the following images: gourd, crab, fish, rooster, shrimp, deer. The inventor of the game originally chose gourd, gourd, gourd, gourd, gourd, gourd, but results from focus groups found that people were winning too much: "And the dice say…gourd! Everybody wins." [Source: Jagged Noodles Blog |*|]

"The board is accompanied by three dice, whose faces are of those same six images. You place your money on board, the dealer shakes the dice in a bowl and releases them, and if your images come up, you rack up the reward, multiplied by how many dice show the image. For example, you bet five dollars on crab, and two crabs come up, you win ten dollars. You can bet on multiple images simultaneously. |*|

"On Tet, children would wake up, get their lucky money, and immediately go gamble with Bau Cua Ca Cop, which is usually set on the floor in front of someone’s house. Every few hundred feet, you’d see people, usually men, huddled over a game. Excited shouting and screaming would emanate from these huddles, including, but not limited to, "To cha may!" (damn your father!), "Chet roi; vo tao danh tao chet" (I’m dead; my wife is going to kill me dead), "Do mat dich!" (something about losing a duck), and "Bau? Thang khung nao ngu tu nhien bo bau vao tro choi nay!" (Gourd? What stupid idiot put gourd into this game!). |*|

"Even small children get into the game, betting tiny amounts. Tet is a time when everyone is equal, so kids are usually welcomed to play and can earn a lot of money if they are lucky. It is super adorable to see their faces light up when they make their first win and perhaps take the first step on the long and interesting road to gambling addiction. More serious games often last way into the night, and shameless men are known to completely blow their wages, and come home during Tet a disgrace to their family. This game may explain why there is such a high rate of gambling problems in the Vietnamese community." |*|

Vietnam Plans to Legalize Sports Gambling

In March 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported: "Vietnam is emerging as the latest Asian nation to loosen a straight-laced attitude to gambling, with the Finance Ministry saying it plans to legalize sports betting. The move, partly inspired by Singapore's success in reinventing itself as a casino hub in recent years, followed discussions about easing restrictions on gambling in other major markets, such as Japan, and underscored the speed with which the gambling world's center of gravity has shifted toward Asia. [Source: James Hookway and Vu Trong Khanh, Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2012]

Hanoi's Finance Ministry said that legalizing and regulating betting on soccer matches and other sporting events would help limit the social damage caused by underground gambling syndicates. While Vietnam has only a handful of casinos, which only foreign-passport holders can enter, informal gambling on European soccer matches is widespread. Many Vietnamese also regularly cross the border to gamble at Cambodian casinos, a practice that Vietnam's Communist leaders long have viewed with distaste. Vietnamese casinos, such as the Crown Casino in the central coastal city of Da Nang, are open only to holders of foreign passports.

The recent success of the gambling industry in Singapore appears to be changing perceptions. Las Vegas Sands Corp.'s Marina Bay Sands and Genting Singapore PLC's Resorts World Sentosa opened in Singapore in 2010 after the government auctioned off licenses to operate in the wealthy city-state. The auction followed years of hesitation about the possible social impact of casinos. But the casinos have been a financial success, drawing large numbers of tourists without triggering widespread crime or other problems.

Singapore's success in creating family-oriented resorts has piqued the interest of investors and governments hoping to replicate that model in other parts of Southeast Asia. Vietnamese Finance Minister Vuong Dinh Hue visited Singapore over the weekend to study how sports betting works there. The ministry said he met with executives from the Tote Board and Singapore Pools, government-run operators of sports betting in Singapore. Mr. Hue also visited a horse-racing track. On his return to Vietnam, Mr. Hue said his country could learn from Singapore's example in setting up a legal and organizational framework for operating large-scale betting operations. It was unclear whether Mr. Hue's more tolerant approach to sports betting signaled a broader shift among the country's top leadership in Vietnam to open its market to more casinos and other forms of gambling. It also was unclear if private companies, including foreign investors, would be allowed into the sports-betting market, or if the business would be dominated by the Vietnamese government.

U.S. casino operators view Asia as an important new growth market as their American operations continue to suffer the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. PricewaterhouseCoopers expects Asia to contribute 43 percent of the global casino market by 2015, up from 29 percent in 2010. Vietnam could be one of several new gambling hubs, thanks to its population of around 90 million people and its growing appeal among foreign tourists. Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson has said he was trying to encourage Vietnamese authorities to allow the company to build integrated casino-and-convention resorts in the country.

It wasn’t the first time plan to legalize gambling were suggested. In September 2006, Associated Press reported: "Vietnam is working on a plan to legalize soccer betting to generate money for the country's sports industry and curb rampant illegal gambling, Le Hung Dung, vice president of Vietnam Football Federation, said. "If everything goes smoothly, we hope to start offering legal soccer betting next year," he said. Dung said five international betting companies, including the U.K.'s Ladbrokes, Austria's Bet and Win and Singapore's S.Pool, have been in contact with Vietnamese sports authorities to help with the plan. "We cannot completely wipe out illegal betting," Dung said. "But it would help to reduce illegal betting." [Source: Associated Press - September 14, 2006]

Casino Raids in Vietnam

In 2007, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "Police in Ho Chi Minh City raided five casinos and arrested more than 80 Vietnamese gamblers and 10 casino organizers, including one American, officials. Along with the 81 Vietnamese, some 100 foreigners — including citizens of South Korea, China, Taiwan and Malaysia — had been gambling at the casinos when they were raided on Sunday, said the police. The Vietnamese gamblers were arrested, but later released. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur - May 27, 2007 //\\]

"The casinos were accused of illegally allowing Vietnamese citizens to place bets, according to the police. Casinos catering to foreigners are permitted in Vietnam, but are barred from allowing Vietnamese to gamble. The 10 casino organizers, including the US citizen, are being held pending charges on gambling-related offences. The casinos were located in four hotels and a restaurant. "Those places are only licensed to operate slot machines, and only foreigners are allowed to play there," said Hoang Tan Viet, deputy director of the Social Crimes Department of the Ministry of Public Security in Ho Chi Minh City. "However, when we raided them, many of the people there were Vietnamese, and they were not playing slot machines. They were playing roulette, blackjack, and many other types of games." //\\

"The casinos had been set up over a year ago by an underworld figure named Luong Cam Huy, reported Thanh Nien. The paper quoted a police lieutenant as saying that Huy is a former associate of Ho Chi Minh City mafia boss Nam Cam, who was executed for murder and bribery in 2004. Vietnam's government officially considers gambling a "social evil." But betting on football matches, illegal lotteries, cockfights and other games is widespread. In March, police in Hanoi arrested 124 gamblers at an illegal backyard dice game. In January, several of the country's top football players were convicted in a match-fixing scandal. Meanwhile, the former director of a Transportation Ministry construction unit, Bui Tien Dung was sentenced to 13 years in prison on corruption charges related to his involvement in millions of dollars worth of football betting." //\\

Rich and Poor Vietnamese Gamble in Cambodian Border Town Casinos

In 2008, Makoto Ota wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, "The crowds of Vietnamese trying their luck at the casinos that have sprung up in the southeastern border town of Bavet are a tangible example of the widening social divisions in their home country. While some of the people crossing the border for the casinos in Cambodia are betting millions of dollars, others stay there for the free food— a mixture of haves and have-nots that has become more evident since Vietnam introduced its "doi moi" policies of economic liberalization in the 1980s.[Source: Makoto Ota, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 1, 2008 /|\]

In the early 2000s, "Bavet, an hour by car from Ho Chi Minh City, was surrounded by rice paddies. But it now has seven casinos, and is illuminated round-the-clock by neon lights. A man from Ho Chi Minh City, identifying himself as Quon, was playing baccarat at a table lit by chandeliers. "I never keep track of how much I bet," he said as he placed another 500 dollars bet after having just lost 500 dollars. "Probably several thousand dollars a day," the 45-year-old Quon said. More than 90 percent of the 7,000 visitors the casinos receive each day are Vietnamese. Food and drink is free, while complimentary accommodation is available next door for those placing a certain amount in bets. /|\

"The average monthly income in Vietnam is about 150 dollars, though some of the guests clearly earn far more than this. The 32-year-old Vietnamese assistant manager of the Le Macau casino, the oldest casino in the area, said: "Betting tens of thousands of dollars is nothing special here. I know one customer who spent 2 million dollars." The casinos have benefitted from the money flowing out of Ho Chi Minh City. "I made a fortune thanks to my connections with the [Vietnamese] government," one patron said. "I bought some real estate after obtaining some useful information and sold it on. With the surging property market, I knew I'd make money." /|\

"A 50-year-old man identifying himself as Tieng came to Bavet with his wife from the southern province of Tay Ninh in Vietnam eight months ago. Tieng said that back home he worked irregularly as a day-laborer, earning about 37 dollars in a good month. But he said that he now earns enough to make a reasonable living through gambling, having three meals a day at the casinos and sleeping on a sofa. "I can earn 10 dollars a day," Tieng said. "Everything I earn is profit, because we don't need to pay for food." Tieng said about 20 Vietnamese have left their hometown because of poverty and settled in the casinos, adding the number of "settlers" has been growing as rumors of easy money spread. /|\

Horse Racing in Ho Chi Minh City

Describing horse racing at Phu Tho race track in Ho Chi Minh City in the 1990s, Andrew Beyer, the former horse racing columnist for the Washington Post, wrote: "Vietnamese racehorses are a genetic mixture of French thoroughbred stock and Mongolian ponies, and most are so small that, by U.S. standards, they look as if they belong in an amusement park rather than at a track. Races here are not classified by age or sex but according to the height of the horses, in order to give a fair chance to the smallest of the small. In the lowest classes the weight assignment for a horse may be as low as 64 pounds; even the 'big' horses carry no more than 96. Bill Shoemaker in his prime would have been too gargantuan to ride here."

Most of the jockeys are 14- and 15-year-old children that look to Westerners as if they are less than 10. They usually weigh less than 77 pounds and "don't have the strength to control a racehorse." It is not unusual for jockeys to fall off their mounts. With horse-carrying vehicles in short supply, owners have to walk their horse to the track, a journey of up to 25 miles on busy roads.

"When the gate opens for races here," wrote Beyer, "at least one or two horses will be left 10 or 20 lengths behind. When the field turns into the stretch, everybody loses control; horses who have been near the rail drift beyond the middle of the track. The stretch run is reminiscent of little kids driving bumper cars; horses are swerving right and left, banging into each other. As far as I could discern Vietnamese horseplayers seemed to accept all this as part of the game."

Horse racing in Vietnam dates back to 1893, when French military officers introduced the sport to Saigon. "Only exacta betting is offered," Beyer wrote. "Clerks sit at a table, behind which is a board holding paper tickets for all possible combinations in a 10-horse field. If a customer asks for tickets on a 4-6 and 4-10 exactas, the clerk simply tears them off the board and hands them over. because there is a finite number of tickets for each combination, it's possible for tickets to be sold out...Payoffs are hand-calculated and announced about 10 minutes after the race.Phu Tho takes a burdensome 35 percent from all wages, and I was told that illegal bookmakers thrive by offering more attractive odds." The Vietnamese government nets about $1 million from Ho Chi Minh City' Phu Tho race track annually. Doping to fix races is common. Vietnamese tracks can only check for a few drugs.

Horse Racing in Hanoi

In 2007, Vietnamnet reported: "After many years of delay as foreign partners two times gave up the game, the project on the biggest horse track in Vietnam will be resumed after a nearly ten year hiatus. In 1999, the project on the horse race field in Hanoi was licensed. The project investor was the Vietnam Sports and Horse Race Club Co. The Hanoi People’s Committee allowed them to build a 439,731 sq m horse track in the areas of Dai Kim and Thanh Liet communes of Hoang Mai and Thanh Liet districts. However, in 2005, the foreign partner in the joint venture gave up, because Vietnam did not allow horse race betting. At that time, Hanoitourism decided to merge with the said company, and then join forces with a British partner to set up a joint venture to continue the project.However, the Hanoi People’s Committee decided that a horse track on the previously chosen land plot in Hoang Mai and Thanh Liet districts would not mesh with the development programme of Hanoi and asked them to relocate the field to Tan Minh commune in Soc Son district. [Source: Vietnamnet, November 24, 2007 <:>]

"When the Hanoi People’s Committee was going to sign the decision on allocating land for the project, the foreign partner, once again, withdrew from the project. The main reason for the British investor’s withdrawal was that horse race betting was considered legal only if it was carried out within the horse track complex. The Ministry of Planning and Investment then threatened to revoke the licence for the project. However, the Hanoi People’s Committee proposed the retention of the licence after finding a new investor, US-based Global Consultant Network L.L.C. <:>

"Nguyen Manh Hung, director general of Hanoutourism, said that his company would sign the contract on setting up a joint venture to develop the project on the biggest horse track in Vietnam next week with the US partner. He said that the US partner had accepted the in-house gambling restriction, which makes the project feasible. "What we need to do now is to fulfil administrative procedures. We will kick-start the project as soon as we can," said Hung.The parties of the joint venture have estimated that the total investment capital will be US$500mil-1bil. The horse track will cover an area of 235 ha, and the project will be undertaken in two phases. In the first phase, US$120 million will be injected to build the track, while in the second phase, other items will be built, including 5-star hotels, trade centres, a golf course, water park, apartments and a resort. <:>

"According to Hung, Vietnam will contribute capital to the joint venture in brand name and prestige, while the foreign partner, cash, equipment, technologies and thoroughbreds. Once operational, this will be a world-class horse track. The project will include a horse training centre to cover an area of 125 ha. In the first phase of the project, right after the field becomes operational, horse race activities will be organised two days a week, while other days it will be open for other entertainment and sports activities. The horse race field will be 6 kilometres from Noi Bai Airport and link directly to the centre of Hanoi. The project is expected to create 10,000 jobs. <:>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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