Vietnamese have been gambling for centuries, but the activity is mostly prohibited by law. Our many luxury casinos that are attached to upscale hotels are only available to foreign passport holders as overseas operators seek emerging markets in Vietnam. While it is possible to cross the border and visit Laos or Cambodia to gamble, this is not a feasible for most. This leaves underground and internet casinos as options. While both are illegal with strict penalty, each option remains popular.
From my limited experience, it seems our police are only focused on gambling that takes place inside our country. I discuss this in my article “online betting in Vietnam” in the second half of this article series.
In that article I mention www.bodog88.com is a company that is legal and licensed in the Philippines with no Vietnam presence. They however support Vietnamese language (tiếng Việt). Also, when opening an account in USD with a Vietnam address it is possible to deposit in Vietnamese dong (VND) using local bank transfer. The banks supported are Asia Commercial Bank, DongA Bank, Sacombank, and Vietcombank. With Bodog88 is it possible to play casino, poker and mahjong and to bet sports such as football (soccer).
If wanting to gamble fully legally the only option is lottery. This began here in 1999. Today it is widespread with vendors all over the country selling tickets. There are three main lotteries. The first is Southern Lottery (Xổ Số Miền Nam) which also oversees Ben Tre Lottery (Xổ Số Bến Tre), Lottery Vung Tau (Xổ Số Vũng Tàu), and Lottery Lieu (Xổ Số Bạc Liêu). Northern Lottery (Xổ Số Miền Bắc) is another major and also has Quang Ninh Lottery (Xổ Số Quảng Ninh). The third is Central Vietnam Lottery (Xổ Số Miền Trung) which has Dak Lak Lottery (Xổ Số Đắk Lắk) and Quang Nam Lottery (Xổ Số Quảng Nam) too.
Gambling Laws Explained
Outside of lottery the anti-gambling laws of Vietnam are strict. A minor offense such as social gambling for very-small stakes is an administrative violation. This is essentially the same crime as blogging about politics on the internet or distributing religious materials. This is handled by a special division of the police. The sentence is generally a small fine and non-custodial reform. It however does not take much for gambling to become a very serious crime.
Punishment for Gambling
Article 248 of our Penal Code covers the first level crime for gamblers. This is for individuals caught winning or losing an amount between 2 million dong and 50 million dong. The law also says this can be either money or anything else of value. Understand, this is a very small amount. 2 million dong is about $96 in United States currency. For this the penalty is a fine not less than 5 million dong and not more than 50 million dong AND either a) non-custodial reform up to 3 years or b) a prison term of 3-36 months.
What is Non-Custodial Reform?
Non-Custodial Reform is a probation/parole system. Those sentenced to this must report to the relevant authorities as instructed. They also must remain in their district and report changes of residence and employment. Committing a crime while on non-custodial reform will often result in a prison sentence. This means anyone who has already been administratively sanctioned and then is found gambling an amount under 2 million dong again – can receive the penalties covered above.
Crime for Serious Offenses
Article 248 increases the penalty to a minimum 3-year prison sentence (7-year maximum) for anyone found to have won or lost 50 million dong or more gambling. The same penalty applies for lower amounts when the guilty person is found to be a professional gambler or is a repeat offender. Persons sentenced under this section can also be fined 3 million to 30 million dong. Article 249 of our criminal code covers additional offenses for involvement in the operation of illegal gambling. That is for non-players and is outside the scope of this article.
Future of Gambling in Vietnam
The political opinion towards gambling in Vietnam has long been mixed. There are constantly discussions about reducing the penalties and about introducing new forms of legal gambling. Understand these were the same sort of talks had in 1995, when the penalties increased. In 1999, we did legalize lottery and this is unlikely to change. Only in late 2009, were the penalties clarified and this could be viewed as having strengthen of our anti-gambling law. In 2013, the idea to allow locals in casinos was shot down. While the talks are often positive towards expanding gambling here, most of what happens is the opposite.