The Vietnam government has recently legalised sports betting and this includes horse race betting. Horse racing in Vietnam is not something new. In fact, it began in the country as early as 1893 with the formation of the Saigon Horse Racing Association. The sport, fairly new and foreign to the locals were dominated by the French military officers.
As the approval of sports gambling through Vietnam’s National Assembly came into fruition, foreign investors can be used to revive the poverty-laden country.
The country’s very first horse racing organization is the Saigon Horse Racing Association formed in 1893. The organization built a racecourse at the heart of the city were horse racing flourished until the beginning of World War I. Post-war, in the year 1920, horse racing continued due to its popularity and spurred the building and development of second race track in 1932 located in Phu Tho district. Again, racing came to halt at the advent of World War II and restarted post-war under the management of locals. Horse racing gambling continued until 1975 when Saigon was finally liberated and the socialist government banned gambling. The old race track was then transformed to become the Sports and Education College.
By March 1989, the horse race track was placed under the jurisdiction of the Sports and Gymnastics Office of Ho Chi Minh City and was eventually restored. Since then, regular races have been held every weekend.
Many of the horses used in races are locally bred with most of the owners living in the farming district surrounding Ho Chi Minh City and have been racing since the colonial days. These breeders are the same ones that served as the industry’s backbones since horse racing became legal.
During a race, breeders bring their horses to the race track straight from the farms. Then, these horses will return to the farms as soon as the races end. The classifications of ponies depend on their annual measurement exercises. In general, their classification depends on their height before they are differentiated into classes.
No handicapped horses race in Vietnam races. All of the ponies have fix weight during races and the first four horses to finish each race receive prize money.
Except for Lunar New Year weekend, Vietnam holds regular horse races every Saturday and Sunday with each race day having nine races. The horses run a dirt track with a length of 1,650 metres and a width of 20 metres. The jockeys used by owners and breeders choose from a list pre-approved by the Saigon Racing Club. These trainers train locally and must have permission from the club before they can race. In Vietnam, individuals as young as 14 years old can apply for jockey training. So it is not unusual to meet jockeys aged 14 to 15 years old. But since they are Asian, they would appear to be about 10 years old to most Westerners. Vietnamese jockeys usually weigh around 77 pounds and can be easily toppled off their mounts when they do not have the strength needed to control the horses.
The start of thoroughbred racing in Vietnam began in 2005 when about 40 thoroughbreds from Australia came to the country. The country has only one race course, the Saigon Racing Club, which underwent renovation in 2005. With Hanoi receiving the go signal to develop a US$500 million horse racing and entertainment facility, thoroughbred racing is expected to continually grow in the coming years.
The club hosts one thoroughbred racing each week. The racehorses used for the races run on handicap and do not have to undergo classification. The horses carry a maximum weight of 60kgs, which is assigned based on the runner’s previous performances on the track. Unlike locally bred ponies, these thoroughbred horses have on-site stables and undergo training by expats. To date, about 10 thoroughbred horses are locally-owned and eight former pony riders underwent training to ride these horses.
While many bettors welcome the idea of thoroughbred racing and betting, horse owners are still wary due to the lack of thoroughbred racehorses for local owners, the lack of knowledge, lack of facility for training, and the expensive cost of upkeep of these thoroughbred horses. The present betting turnover is not enough to fuel the cost of full-scale thoroughbred racing, making thoroughbred racing quite unpopular to the general public.
Before the modernization of betting, only exacta betting is available. Clerks hold paper tickets for all possible combinations available for a 10-horse track. Bettors would simply ask for tickets for a particular bet, say 4-10 or 4-6 exactas and the clerks would simply tear off the tickets and hand it to the bettor.
Now, the Asian Racing Federation has a betting system from Australia, supplied by TABCORP. The betting system supports several bet types including Win, Place, Exacta, Trifecta, Quartet, and Quinella, among others. At present, about a hundred terminals operate each race day. The race track has in-house CCTV systems with 100 television monitors that display the betting odds and racing information. Each unit bet costs 10,000 Vietnamese dong with a daily turnover of US$120,000. Over the years, the betting turnover gradually increased along with the use of exotic pools and computerization of bets. Vietnam does not offer any off-track betting terminals. Those who want to bet on horse races must go to the race course and place their bets using the terminals scattered on site.
Online betting on horse races is still not the norm for the people of Vietnam. There are, however, illegal bookmakers who resort to giving better odds than what bettors can get from legal betting sites. Still, it is considered a high-risk activity, with some bettors not receiving their payouts from these illegal bookies.
The approval of the legalization of sports betting and the green lighting of the $500 million horse racing facility in Hanoi are fueling the growth of horse racing in Vietnam. Many are positive that this will bring in more foreign investors in the country and, in turn, will revitalize the horse racing industry.
The project, which has been long delayed will finally come into fruition come 2021. The entertainment complex and horse racing facility will find its home on an agricultural land located in Soc San, north of Hanoi. This approval raised the interest of other investors to build more horse racing complexes in Ho Chi Minh City, Vinh Phuc, and Bac Ninh.