HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A recently announced government decision to allow a casino on Vietnam's biggest island drew mixed reactions Friday from citizens, who weighed its potential economic benefits against its perceived social vices.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's approval in principle of the casino at Phu Quoc, a resort island in the Gulf of Thailand, was reported this week by local media.
Debate has focused on whether Vietnamese citizens should be allowed inside. Vietnam has several casinos, but they are reserved for foreigners. A draft decree on casino operations under review by government agencies would allow Vietnamese under certain conditions. The decree also mandates a minimum $4 billion investment in the casino's development.
Proponents of liberalizing the rules for casino operations say it would help keep money inside the country that Vietnamese gamblers now spend abroad, especially in neighboring Cambodia.
The Finance Ministry has proposed that the new decree allow Vietnamese who are over 21 years of age, financially secure and without any criminal record to play in selected casinos.
Tran Thi Viet Huong of Viettravel, one of Vietnam's major tour operators, said the planned casino on Phu Quoc in Kien Giang province would benefit the country if it is well managed.
"Opening this casino will attract more tourists and infrastructure investment and create more jobs, which will bring more development opportunities," she said.
Economist Pham Chi Lan, however, expressed doubts about the potential benefits.
"The money we may earn from the Vietnamese who spend at casinos in Vietnam instead of the ones in Singapore or Cambodia may not be enough to compensate for the economic and social consequences brought about if gambling is widespread and legalized in Vietnam," she said, expressing skepticism that any rules limiting play by Vietnamese would be strictly enforced.