Vietnam’s bid to legalize sports betting isn’t quite going according to plan. On Thursday, the day the World Cup kicked off in Russia, the country’s Communist government passed a law permitting its citizens to bet on certain soccer matches and a handful of other approved sports, provided they are held overseas.

Vietnamese sports betting push goes awry

After decades of prohibition, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang has moved to relax laws on gambling in the country, although this may be proving tougher than he at first thought. (Image: Kham/Reuters)

Illegal gambling is rife in the country and peaks during major international events, like the World Cup and the Asian games. So, to prevent billions of dollars flowing out of Vietnam to international gambling sites, the government decided to legalize betting on these key events alone.

But the Vietnamese won’t be betting on the on the World Cup, at least not legally, for at least another four years, as the law won’t come into effect until next year — a missed opportunity, since it’s likely to be the biggest betting event the world has ever seen.

Tumbleweed Moment

Last year, the government said it would establish a pilot program that would license one operator to offer betting on international soccer, which it hoped would be in place by April 2018 in time for the World Cup.

But according to Vietnamese English-language newspaper VNExpress on Tuesday, the regime has been forced to admit that not a single operator applied for the pilot license.

That’s probably because, for operators, the proposition of taking bets on a handful of tournaments that take place every four years does not add up to a golden business opportunity. These may be the most bet-upon events in Vietnam and around the world, but operators want to take bets all year round, on La Liga and the English Premier League, for example.

If You Can’t Beat ’em…

Vietnam has slowly begun to relax its previously strict prohibitions on gambling. Last year, the government announced it would experiment with lifting its longstanding ban on locals gambling in its casinos.

Last week, the Hanoi Times reported that the Ministry of Planning and Investment had recommended that the Bai Dai integrated resort, on Phu Quoc island, should be part of a three-year pilot to accept Vietnamese nationals, beginning in mid-July.

According to estimates, the Vietnamese spend $800 million on casino gambling overseas, mainly in the casinos of Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong. The state-run lottery is currently the main opportunity for the Vietnamese to gamble at home, on which they spent $13 billion between 2011 and 2015.