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Tax not the solution to online gaming issue

Update: October, 13/2014 - 09:28
A 10 per cent tax on the online gaming industry recently proposed by the Ministry of Finance aims to address the connection between the increase in gaming addiction and game-related crimes among youngsters by charging them more to fuel their addiction.

Thu Van and Chi Lan talk to a lawyer, a social affairs expert and members of the public about the latest financial strike on the VND7.9 trillion (US$382 million) online gaming industry.

What is your opinion of the proposed special consumption tax on online games?

Trinh Hoa Binh, Institute of Social Science

Trinh Hoa Binh

Online gaming is a mark of the IT sector's success that people today have the privilege to enjoy. Games can be healthy or unhealthy, violent or peaceful, but what really matters is the way people play games. It would be wrong if we applied a special consumption tax based on the assumption that all games are bad, violent and addictive.

Applying a special consumption tax on online gaming means that some games are not condoned. This is wrong. Online games are neutral, unpolitical and there is no divide between rich and poor as they do not cost much to play. There is a minority of players that get addicted to online gaming, but the fault is in the players who cannot control themselves, not the games. Images are animated and unreal so they do not have much of a bad impact on the players. Illegal clips and films that have real people in are actually the most harmful. The media and authorities are to blame for giving the public a bad impression of online gaming with unfair allegations.

Who will have to pay the special consumption tax? The game players of course. However, most online game players are students with low incomes.

We also understand that the Government can only collect the tax from licensed online gaming companies, and they cut any violence before games are released to the market. How can we collect the tax from illegally imported games? It is impossible. Vietnamese games companies and local game players are the only ones who will lose out here.

Nguyen Van Nam, Van Nam Law Firm

Whenever lawmakers want to consider a policy or regulation, they have to consider certain principles and whether that policy or law regulations is in compliance with the Constitution and other laws of the country.

Nguyen Van Nam

In this case, lawmakers need to answer the following questions:

-What is the purpose of applying a special consumption tax on online gaming? Is that purpose in compliance with the Constitution?

-Is such policy the only way to meet that purpose?

- Will the application of a special consumption tax have any bad impacts on relevant parties?

In this case, those who proposed a special consumption tax on online gaming argued it had a negative impact on children and young people who are addicted to games, and the tax would prevent them playing. Let's talk about each point I've mentioned above.

So the purpose of the tax is to prevent children and young people from becoming addicted badly affected by online gaming. Applying a tax means the price to play games would be higher. When a person is addict to a game – would a higher price prevent them from playing? Honestly, I think the answer is no. And the loss in this case would be for these children's parents. Along with it, there is a high chance that social evils would rise because these youngsters would have to find ways to pay to play games.

The application of a higher tax would not stop addicts. There must be better solutions. For example, a regulation on timeframe - how long a person can play a game, or a regulation of age range - who can play what game. Also, it is crucially important that parents take responsibility for children who play online games.

Now, let's talk about the impacts that the special consumption tax would have on relevant parties.

The tax would surely impact on gaming companies - they would have to raise game prices and face harsher competition from imported online games.

The tax would impact on game players - they would have to pay more.

The tax would impact on society - people would have to divert funds to pay for daily necessities to buying online game.

And, the tax would impact those who just enjoy playing games. We need to remember that online games are not only for children - adults can also play online games for entertainment. They would have to pay a tax that is designed not for them.

Nguyen Minh Hoang, 24, an online game player

Nguyen Minh Hoang

I am strongly against the special consumption tax on online gaming. The first parties to suffer from the tax will be the games companies and players.

Online gaming is a new kind of entertainment business in Viet Nam, so it needs support policies, not a tax to choke its development.

I know many games players, including myself, have to skip breakfast to save money for the internet fees to play online games. Do we have to skip lunch now too to pay for the tax?

If the special consumption tax is applied, I am sure that many players will swap to illegally imported games or play on servers in other countries. While taxed games are not necessarily better than the nontaxed alternatives, the choice seems to be obvious.

Needless to say, this shift will definitely have negative impacts on the local gaming businesses.

Do you think the tax will help decrease gaming addiction and related social evils?

Binh: Applying a tax on online game to reduce social evils is nonsense. Crimes do not originate from games, they come from addicts who are uneducated and do not know any better. If addicts come from rich families, they will ask their own parents for money to play games. If there's no money from their parents, they will just ask other people. If the addicts are from poor families and they cannot ask anyone for money, they will steal it. A special consumption tax is bound to increase the pressure on addicts to commit crimes, not the other way around. It is just social logic.

Hoang: I doubt it. Gaming is just like any other kind of addiction. Financial strikes alone cannot solve this. Game players will try as many ways as possible to raise more money to play the games they like.

It is undeniable there are violent factors in online games, especially illegal ones. But again, taxation is not the solution. What is the point of applying an anti-violence tax on a licensed game that has already cut out all the violent parts? On the other hand, illegal games that should be taxed turn out to be nontaxable. I must say this is quite an awkward decision for policy makers.

Nguyen Kien Son, manager of internet service stores

I do not think this special consumption tax will change anything at all.

I am the manager of six internet service stores in Ha Noi. About 85 per cent of the online players in my stores are students, and they mostly get the money to play games from their families.

Let me tell you a story about one of my regular customers. This high-school boy, a gaming addict, was suspended from school for truancy. Instead of going to school, he came to my store to play online games all day. Just a day after his suspension, he showed up at my store again with VND200,000 (US$9.5) that his mother gave him to play games. She even brought him to the store and bid him a sweet goodbye as if his suspension never happened.

Even if the tax is applied and gaming addicts have to pay more to play, I believe there will be no dramatic changes unless their families actually do something about it. — VNS

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