Vietnam has eight casinos and 43 slot parlors, but unless they hold a foreign passport, Vietnamese citizens are forbidden to gamble at home. That could change for the first time if the government approves a draft decree which was submitted recently.

Over the last several years, the subject of whether or not to allow Vietnamese citizens to gamble in casinos and e-gaming clubs and inviting foreign investors to develop large-scale gaming-integrated hotels (IR) has been a source of enormous controversy. And while gambling may be officially off-limits to non-foreign passport holding citizens, some residents still enjoy partaking and the country’s abundant illegal and semi-illegal betting shops makes that possible in-country.

Analysts and industry executives have long said that even under restricted conditions, if locals are allowed to play the interest of foreign investors is likely to be boosted and that if gambling laws do loosen in Vietnam it could become a regional casino hub. That sentiment was echoed by the Ministry of Finance’s Lottery and Gambling Division Deputy Director, Nguyen Huy Dat, who was quoted by the Vietnam Investment Review as saying, “Such a policy “could potentially add US$800 million in tax revenue to the state budget,” and, “We hope that this will be the last draft; already we have seen a lot of revisions before its submission in June.”

The report also noted the expectation among casino operators that casino projects in Vietnam would see a decrease from $4 billion to $2 billion in the total investment capital, as well as well as a minimum investment of at least US$1 billion. Dat added that those conditions were taken into consideration when the draft was composed, but that ultimately, the government will make the final decision.

The prolonged debate, which has been going on since 2009, when the drafting began, has hindered casino businesses from coming to Vietnam. An estimated $800 million a year in tax revenue has been lost to overseas casinos resulting from the regulation which bans locals from partaking in casinos there. Investors have been nervous about the fact that new casino projects won’t be licensed by the government if the draft decree isn’t approved.

The news outlet also quoted Ho Tram Project Company Ltd’s Executive Chairman, Michael Kelly, as saying, “Owning the largest casino venue in Vietnam, Ho Tram is waiting for the adoption of the decree to improve our casino business performance further.” In May, the promoter of the large-scale Grand Ho Tram Strip project located in Ho Chi Minh City announced a memorandum of understanding agreement had been reached with Cotec Construction Joint Stock Co, a local developer, to expand the complex to the tune of US$75 million.

Not the only casino project in the works, in April, the joint venture between Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook, Macau-based SunCity Group, and VinaCapital, the Nam Hoi An Casino Resort, with a $4 billion price tag kicked off, making it the second largest casino in the country. And at a meeting in March between Minister of Finance Dinh Tien Dung and Singapore’s Banyan Tree Holdings, the latter reiterated its proposal on the Laguna Lang Co, which is awaiting its casino license, resort complex casino investment.