~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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Vietnamese gamble on Cambodian town Border town casinos show gap between Vietnam's rich and poor since economic reforms

The crowds of Vietnamese trying their luck at the casinos that have sprung up in the southeastern border town of Bavet are a tangible example of the widening social divisions in their home country.

While some of the people crossing the border for the casinos in Cambodia (gambling is illegal in Vietnam) are betting millions of dollars, others stay there for the free food-- a mixture of haves and have-nots that has become more evident since Vietnam introduced its "doi moi" policies of economic liberalization in the 1980s.

Seven years ago, Bavet, an hour by car from Ho Chi Minh City, was surrounded by rice paddies. But it now has seven casinos, and is illuminated round-the-clock by neon lights. A man from Ho Chi Minh City, identifying himself as Quon, was playing baccarat at a table lit by chandeliers. "I never keep track of how much I bet," he said as he placed another 500 dollars bet after having just lost 500 dollars. "Probably several thousand dollars a day," the 45-year-old Quon said. More than 90 percent of the 7,000 visitors the casinos receive each day are Vietnamese. Food and drink is free, while complimentary accommodation is available next door for those placing a certain amount in bets.

The average monthly income in Vietnam is about 150 dollars, though some of the guests clearly earn far more than this. The 32-year-old Vietnamese assistant manager of the Le Macau casino, the oldest casino in the area, said: "Betting tens of thousands of dollars is nothing special here. I know one customer who spent 2 million dollars." The casinos have benefited from the money flowing out of Ho Chi Minh City. "I made a fortune thanks to my connections with the [Vietnamese] government," one patron said. "I bought some real estate after obtaining some useful information and sold it on. With the surging property market, I knew I'd make money."

As there is no private land ownership in Vietnam, trade in land-use rights is roaring, creating a housing bubble in the country. The assessed value of the land per square meter in front of the Ben Thanh Market, in the center of Ho Chi Minh City, was 200,000 dollars, or 21.7 million yen, in 2006--more than the 19 million yen the same-sized piece of land would cost in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza 2-chome. But while some Vietnamese have benefited from the emerging market economy, many have been left behind, and have even abandoned their hometowns altogether for Bavet.

A 50-year-old man identifying himself as Tieng came to Bavet with his wife from the southern province of Tay Ninh in Vietnam eight months ago. Tieng said that back home he worked irregularly as a day-laborer, earning about 37 dollars in a good month. But he said that he now earns enough to make a reasonable living through gambling, having three meals a day at the casinos and sleeping on a sofa. "I can earn 10 dollars a day," Tieng said. "Everything I earn is profit, because we don't need to pay for food." Tieng said about 20 Vietnamese have left their hometown because of poverty and settled in the casinos, adding the number of "settlers" has been growing as rumors of easy money spread.

Income disparities in Vietnam have been widening steadily under the doi moi policy. According to statistics from the United Nations, 29.9 percent of the gross national income is held by rich people, who account for just 10 percent of the population. The figure is comparable to that in China, a country facing its own problems with inequality, where about 33 percent of the country's wealth is held by the rich.

By Makoto Ota - Yomiuri Shimbun (.jp) - February 1, 2008.