Vietnamese poker-event organizers to adjust operations in response to 'winner's fee' furor

USOP Danang
Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: March 23, 2024 15:02 PDT

Two poker groups involved in organizing live poker tournaments in Vietnam, which is one of Southeast Asia's growing poker markets, have issued public statements in response to concerns and accusations about the 'winner's fee' deducted from payouts to players who make the money. The concerns arose some time ago but picked up attention just prior to the start of the USOP (U Series of Poker) Danang Part 1 2024 festival, one of the largest series in the country, and changes in structure to better conform to Vietnamese gambling codes are likely to occur.

USOP, along with its partner, the Hanoi-based Crown Poker Club, have both issued formal statements in the past week regarding the controversial winner's fee, via which 10 percent of winnings is withheld from prizes of more than VND 10,000,000 (about US $403) to pay some of the series' adminsitrative expenses.

Unfortunately, some advertising material for prior events described the fee as a 'tax', which would be illegal under Vietnamese law. Players pointed out on Vietnamese-language poker discussion boards and social media that no such tax on winnings exists, and a bit of the controversy has flowed onto English-language poker sites as well.

Official Facebook posts address concerns

Prior to the start of the Danang stop, both USOP and Crown Poker Club addressed the controversy on their official Facebook accounts in carefully worded statements. USOP, the official series organizer, posted the following one week ago:

"In light of growing concerns from players regarding the 10% tax on winnings at USOP Danang, or at any international event held in Vietnam.

"We would like to clarify that USOP has followed the proper protocol according to our local partner, Crown Poker Club, in order to successfully and legally organize an international tournament in Vietnam. USOP does not partake in the winning fee in any shape or form. Our partner ensures the appropriate licenses from the relevant authorities are applied for the event from this winning fee, as with other international brands who have successfully organized their tournaments in Vietnam in the past.

"We fully trust our partner to do the necessary administrative due diligence with the fees collected solely for the purpose of facilitating the event and not for personal gain."

The Crown Poker Club, which the USOP post had identified as being the entity responsible for obtaining proper licensing, followed with its own corresponding statement:

Both statements judiciously avoided any use of the word 'tax', past or present. The Crown Poker Club post made it clear that the winner's fee would stay in place for the USOP Danang series but it would be the last time that the current structure would be used in an internationally-framed poker series held in Vietnam. Crown Poker Club has also worked with the World Poker Tour in the past in conjunction with the WPT's Prime stops in the country.

Vietnamese gambling laws pose tricky legal situation

Though a growing market for poker, Vietnam is one of several countries in Southeast Asia where poker-tournament organizers must navigate several different roadblocks. For example, Vietnam's casinos are technically open to international visitors only, and poker tournaments themselves are subject to strict licensing requirements that leave would-be organizers searching for workarounds through which to offer events.

In principle, if not in practice, it's somewhat akin to the social-poker club phenomenon in Texas and other US states, where the real-money poker action exists in a greyish legal area. One thing not describable as grey, however, is using the word 'tax' in connection with any fee attached to player entries or winnings. USOP appears to have made that mistake in earlier events; for example, a Gutshot Magazine promo feature for the 2023 WSOP Danang series excerpts text from that series' official USOP player guide, including mention of a '10% government tax' on winnings.

Other cached Google links lead to similar declarations, though USOP has recently addressed at least that incorrect 'tax' statement. The player guide for the 2024 Danang stop instead changes the wording to 'local processing fee'. The modified text appears on page 11 of the player guide, under Tournament Rules.

Whether the issue involving any sort of fees being charged receives a future government review is uncertain. One recent piece on the topic that highlighted the strictness of the applicable Vietnamese laws, appearing in a mainstream news outlet, was subsequently spammed into USOP's and Crown Poker Club's Facebook threads, presumably by a disgruntled player. The truth, though, is that if organizers can't find a way to pay the costs of offering a a major poker festival, such festivals simply won't be held. And in any event, USOP and Crown Poker Club are likely to introduce a different structure in the future. A follow-up post on the USOP Facebook page declared:

"We wish to thank all the players for giving us good feedback. We have heard from the ground and listened to the players. The series is very close to fruition at this time and we sincerely welcome all players who are passionate about poker with a sporting spirit to participate.

"Be rest assured for the next series, we, together with our partners will seek to achieve better alignment with the relevant authorities to produce a great event.

"We share your passion for poker as a sport and thank everyone for participating in this exciting upcoming series. The USOP team welcomes all to USOP Danang!"

Featured image source: Facebook/useriesofpoker