The international media paints a worrying picture of Vietnamese gambling, with addiction and illegal betting rings on the rise.
The Vietnamese are certainly among the biggest fans of gambling, from casino games, card games, lotteries and online poker to illegal cock fights. But this passion for playing for money often causes things to get out of hand, with many local gamblers falling prey to addiction.
Besides, gambling is a delicate issue in the country. Players who want to bet in Vietnam may only place wagers on dog and horse racing, and even these are exclusive to certain regions. And there’s also the state-run lottery.
Soccer is said to be the nation’s top favorite, though, and the World Cup has caused a lot of excitement among gamblers. But it also ended in tears for many players who risked it all, and lost.
When habits lead to addiction
While it is forbidden for local players to gamble, Vietnam has several land-based casinos, located in:
• Da Nang
• Do Son
• Ha Long
• Ho Chi Minh
• Lao Cai
• Loi Lai
The media has reported the sad story of Doan Minh Tuan, a 32-year-old compulsive gambler who placed a large amount of money on Costa Rica during this year’s FIFA World Cup, only to see it all evaporate.
“I sold everything in my home – television, motorbike, fridge – and now I’ve lost my house. I have nothing now,” he said. And while pointing at the 250,000 dong in front of him, which is the equivalent of only $12, the man added: “This is all I have left.”
“I bet on all games since the World Cup started. Damn my life, I always lose. The bookmaker took my house this evening, my wife had to carry our daughter to her mother’s home. I’ve nothing to lose now and I’ll sleep on the street tonight.”
Some have managed to learn their lesson. A 25-year-old player from the northern Haiphong province who did not want to reveal his name said he even made a career out of his passion for betting. But at one point things took a wrong turn and he was forced to sell his parents’ house in order to pay off his gambling debts.
“The more I bet, the more I lost. I gambled all over the place. I don’t think I can ever earn back what I’ve lost. It’s the bookies who always win,” he confessed.
Illegal gambling, a big problem
Tuan is just one of the many locals suffering from this type of addiction, in a country where gambling is strictly forbidden. The ban applies to casino games and sports betting, as well as online gambling sites in Vietnam.
But instead of keeping people from gambling, these strict laws have done nothing but made illegal operations thrive. Among colleagues, betting values can be as low as a dollar. For high-rollers, the amount can go up to tens of thousands, with losses ending very badly. People are often forced to sell their possessions and even their houses.
There have been a few extreme cases too, where people were so desperate that they ended up taking their own lives. During this World Cup alone, the local media has reported as many as three betting-related suicides.
There’s are no official reports on the value of Vietnam’s illegal gambling industry, and the size of these underground networks is unknown.
Knowing that Vietnamese players already bet large amounts of money on European leagues, the police anticipated a surge in illegal wagering during this year’s soccer tournament, and intensified its crackdown. Several gangs handling football wagers were caught.
Illegal betting gone out of hand
Authorities have always been threatening to apply strict punishments to those who break Vietnamese gambling laws, but this doesn’t seem to be enough to convince people to stop, or to discourage criminals from setting up underground operations.
While local players will always find ways to quench their thirst for gambling, all of this illegal activity leads to bigger problems, including match-fixing scandals that have seen dozens of players arrested. One national team coach decided to forbid players from using mobile phones during tournaments, hoping that this would stop them from falling prey to bookies.
Football managers have repeatedly suggested that authorities should legalize sports betting in Vietnam, in order to stifle match-fixing, cut crime and increase tax revenues. They also said that wagers could be capped at 1 million dong (almost $50). However, Vietnam’s communist leaders refuse to regulate any form of gambling, considering it a social evil.