The Grand Casino at Ho Tram Strip
The Grand Casino at Ho Tram Strip is, like everything else at this high class-resort, operating at its best. Vietnam’s premier gaming destination is found on the ground floor of the plush, 541 room Ho Tram Strip Resort. Superb hotel rooms, beautiful beach and poolside areas, a world class 18 hole golf course, 10 restaurants, a nightclub, a children’s area and the five star casino have turned this venture into the number one resort in Vietnam.
The casino is spacious and opulently decorated; they pitched it right straight away, smaller than the giants in Vegas and Macau but large enough to make an impact. there are in excess of 500 slot machines and 90 gaming tables, these offer: Baccarat, Roulette, Sic Bo, Blackjack, No-Limit Texas Hold’em Poker, Ho Tram Stud Poker Progressive, Ho Tram Hold’em Poker Progressive and VIP Texas Hold’em. Whilst Electronic games include Roulette, Baccarat, Sic Bo and Craps.
I met with Domenic Ricciardelli, the Vice President of Operations at the resort and number one man at the casino, his inside knowledge of gaming around the world, was fascinating. Ricciardelli is a very sociable chap, in many ways the stereotypical casino man. Italian American, well dressed and confident, with a very pleasant air about him. He explained some of the differences with casinos today and casinos, as he put it, “back in the day”.
One answer that surprised me was when I asked him how electronics had transformed the gaming business. His answer was immediate, “Accounting.” He explained how 30 years ago casinos in America had to keep paper records of just about everything for every day. These were bundled up and had to be kept for 5 years. Casinos had whole rooms simply given over to storing this enormous weight of paper. Nowadays everything is done electronically. The players register with their cards, buy chips with their cards and cash in with their cards. The computer systems do the rest. Taxation on gambling in Vietnam is quite high, it operates on a sliding scale up to 35%, this compared to, for example, 5% in Cambodia.
As for the demographics of the players; these are mainly mainly from Korea, China, Malaysia, Australia, Japan to name a few, that mainly come for the resort not necessary the gaming aspect. The age range is just about as wide as you can get. The range of nationalities decided the makeup of the room. Asians for example prefer baccarat to other games, and you instantly notice that there are more tables for it than any other game. They also play a three dice game called Sic Bo, which I hadn’t seen before.
All the croupiers at The Ho Tram Strip Casino are Vietnamese and are all trained by Ricciardelli’s staff. Travel abroad of course is not easy for Vietnamese people and so they have to be trained in-house. As things stand at the moment the law forbids Vietnamese people to enter casinos, unless they hold a foreign passport, this has caused the emphasis at the Resort to be different than other casinos. Normally in America, for example, the casino is the driving business force and the hotel is an add on. Here the resort is the main focus and the casino is the add on. Conventional wisdom within the still young gaming industry in Vietnam is that the gaming decree (which saw already a significant number of drafts) is about to be enacted and when it happens, Domenic Ricciardelli is charged with flipping it back.
Speaking of the changes in the law a new decree is set to become law in the first half of 2016. Although it is difficult to predict its content, at this stage, the gaming operators in Vietnam are expecting the gaming decree to define eligibility criteria for locals to be allowed to gamble; a minimum age of 21 and a minimum monthly income.. They are also likely to impose an entry levy as they do in Singapore, where gamblers have to pay around US$70 for 24 hours or US$2,000 annually. It is likely that Vietnamese citizens will only be allowed to play in certain casinos, which will open the doors to locals in the to be defined “pilot areas”. Wary of unlicensed premises becoming an issue, the government is probably going to insist on this one.
There have been five licences issued for casinos in Vietnam; The Ho Tram Strip is the first to be taken up. The final investment along this pristine coastline is expected to eventually reach US4 billion according to the existing investment certificate. The second phase of the resort has already broken ground and the second tower will increase the number of rooms to 1,100. The next casino is probably going to be on Phu Quoc in about a year, but it seems that people are waiting for this all-important change in the law.
The Ho Tram Strip Resort Casino is pulling in some of the big hitters though. There have been some very big winners and losers, when asked how big, Domenic Ricciardelli replied, “What happens in Ho Tram, stays in Ho Tram.” Classic.
Business is booming at the Ho Tram Strip Resort Casino, with the changes in the law imminent, it looks set to explode, which will only help the development of the Grand Ho Tram Strip as a national and international tourism destination.