In May 2015, winds of hope were blowing through the Vietnamese poker scene. Vietnam was hosting its first international tournament “The Asian Poker Tour Vietnam.” 119 players entered in the Main Event, which was considered a promising start, based on the fact that locals weren’t allowed to play. Nearly one year on, the mood has changed in Vietnam and the expectation of poker growth has vanished as quickly as it arrived. Poker enthusiasts are no longer hiding their disappointment at these fading hopes.
Ho Chi Minh City by night
APT Vietnam cancelled – end of poker operations at Ho Tram poker strip
The first major disappointment came in October with the cancellation of the 2nd edition of the APT Vietnam. The event was scheduled for November. The news was unexpected and created a significant sense of shock and disappointment within the community. The reason behind the cancellation: A newly appointed management at the Grand Ho Tram Strip decided to cancel his contract with World Gaming Group, who were running the poker operations in the casino. The roots of this conflict between Ho Tram and World Gaming Group are still unclear, but since that day, the venue has completely ceased it's poker operations. The casino was offering cash games during the weekend, with a moderate amount of success and also hosted the two first Vietnam Poker Cup.
A deeper problem
World Gaming Group spent all their communication efforts blaming the Grand Ho Tram Strip in the aftermath of the APT Vietnam cancellation, but the problems are more complex and souldn't be limited to this conflict. The Live Cash Games at Ho Tram never really took off, and the second edition of the Vietnam Poker Cup attracted only 15 runners for the Main Event.
The Grand Ho Tram Strip
Also, New World Hotel in HCMC closed it's Electronic Poker who were offering a $3/$5, just a few weeks ago. In Hanoi, the poker game offered at Hanoi Hotel is only running once per week at best. If management choices can be questioned in all of these cases, the main issue remains the same – the legal status of Poker in Vietnam. Locals are still not allowed to enter casinos in Vietnam, which has drastically reduced the options available to organisers in a game like poker, where having a consistent player pool is crucial. Worse still, in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, foreign passport holders are limited to play on electronic tables. Even if this format presents some advantages, a lot of players still prefer to play with real cards and chips. These two obstacles are huge, and are considered by several operators to be too big. Poker remains a game with a low profitability compared to casinos games, so if legal obstacles are added, it becomes extremely hard for casinos to find any advantage in promoting it. What remains: Hopes and underground games
Rumours about possible changes to the current legal framework have been flourishing in recent years. There are two key options: A specific status for poker that could allow poker clubs and tournaments to open their doors for locals, based on the idea that poker is game of skill and needs to be viewed differently to other casino games. The second option would be to give to few selected mega resorts a specific agreement to accept locals in their venue. The Grand Ho Tram Strip would be one of the first venues interested in such a change, but upcoming resorts on Phu Quoc Island or in other parts of Vietnam, are also possible candidates. This is still a very sensitive issue in Vietnam, but the recent political changes could bring about the change expected by many players. Meanwhile, players keep playing in underground games despite the risks involved.
The lust for poker in this young nation of 89 million people appears too strong to resist.