Gaming in Asia – Next stop: Vietnam and Cambodia

Article Posted: 10.08.2017
Martin Evan-Jones

With the ongoing corruption crackdown in China, younger gaming markets in the region, namely Cambodia and Vietnam, have seen rapid growth, thanks at least partly to the exodus of Chinese gamblers.

Being highly affordable and offering a wealth of historic, cultural and scenic attractions, both countries attract large numbers of gaming tourists from the region, including a significant number from China. New developments have been announced for both destinations in 2017, which can be expected to offer a large number of jobs in the gaming and hospitality sectors.

Cambodia has seen strong growth in its gaming market in recent years. The country’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) reported that in the first nine months of 2016, the 69 licensed casinos in the country contributed US$37.4 million in taxes to the government, 35.5% up from the same period in 2015.

While local play has been banned since 2009, the country maintains a thriving gaming industry catering to foreign punters, among them a significant proportion of Chinese visitors. Cambodia received over 800,000 tourists from China in 2016, a 20% jump from 2015, and expects the number to reach 2 million by 2020, out of a total of 7 million foreign tourist visits.

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A dominating player on the country’s gaming scene, NagaCorp, a Hong Kong-listed company, operates NagaWorld, the country’s largest integrated gaming and entertainment hotel complex in Phnom Penh, and has been granted a monopoly status within 200 km of the capital. Recording double-digit growth in betting volumes in the first nine months of 2016, the company is developing Naga2, a project scheduled to open in mid-2017 encompassing 300 gaming tables and two luxury hotels, and in last November announced Naga3 which will possibly include a theme park or water park. NagaCity Walk, a 13,000 square-meter luxury shopping mall was launched last September in a bid to draw affluent Chinese visitors to the casino complex.

Other measures to attract upper-middleclass Chinese punters include collaborations with state-owned China International Travel Service to bring in Chinese visitors, independent airline Bassaka Air which offers chartered flights from Changsha and Xian to Cambodia, as well as the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, together with which Naga Travel will establish visa-issuing joint representative offices in China.

Last December, another US$30-million partnership between MQ Techology Bhd and Cambodian Resorts and Entertainment Co Ltd was announced, which comprises a hotel and casino as well as a theme park to be built in Banteay Chakrey, Prey Veng Province.

Part of an ongoing attempt of the government to encourage investment from foreign casino operators, highly-anticipated revised legislation governing the country’s gaming industry is expected to be passed this year. While details of the bill have yet to be announced, it is believed to include a gaming commission and a revised tax rate that is expected to remain modest and competitive within the region. The impending bill amendment is generally welcome by commentators in the sector, who believe it will encourage foreign investors who have historically been intimidated by the lack of regulation.
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Like its neighbor under Communist rule, Vietnam has a vibrant gaming industry that thrived solely on foreign business. With its long coastline, beautiful landscape, rich culture and colonial charm, the country has much to offer punters, especially those from China who now shy away from risking gambling in Macau under the ongoing crackdown on corruption.

Crown International Games Club, a casino in Danang owned by Chinese businessman Hui Kong, has achieved outstanding success with Chinese VIP clients, in part at least by maintaining a low profile and relying on junket operators to bring in high rollers. Despite its modest scale, Crown operates 13 VIP rooms and has been raking in US$3 billion monthly from its VIP business as of 2015, a significant 50% more than bigger names in the region including Malaysia’s Genting Highlands, Cambodia’s NagaCorp and the Philippines’ Solaire.

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And there are more reasons than the lucrative Chinese business for confidence in growth in the country’s gaming industry in the near future. In January 2017, the Vietnamese government has announced a three-year trial for lifting the longstanding ban on local play, a long anticipated move welcomed by investors who have so far been unable to tap into the unexploited local market, which has a middle-and-affluent class that is expected to expand from 12 million to 33 million between 2014 and 2020.

Qualified casinos will be allowed to accept bets from local citizens who have a monthly income exceeding the equivalent of VND 10 million Dong, pay an entry tax of VND 1 million, and receive no written objection from their families. For casinos to qualify, they need to be part of an integrated hotel and entertainment complex, with a minimum investment of US$2 billion, at least half of which already disbursed.

Among the eligible casinos are two Vietnamese-owned projects currently being built, located in the Van Don Special Economic Zone in the north and Phu Quoc Island in the south respectively. Among other potentially eligible foreign-invested projects are The Grand Ho Tram Strip south of Ho Chi Minh City, the largest casino hotel complex in Vietnam when opened in 2013, as well as Hoi An South Integrated Resort in the Quang Nam Province, a joint venture between Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, Macaus junket operator Suncity Group, and Vietnam’s VinaCapital Group, which is expected to create in excess of 2,000 jobs upon the completion of phase one in 2019.

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Boasting a long-term economy growth trajectory, 94-million population and 600-million strong ASEAN market, Vietnam has great potential for growth in the gaming industry. With the influx of Chinese high rollers in recent years and latest relaxation in local gaming restrictions, more integrated gaming resort projects can be expected in the coming years, which will create large numbers of job opportunities in the gaming and hospitality sectors, especially for Chinese-speaking job seekers in the region.
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