Vietnam has paved the way for a night at the dogs by approving plans for its first ever greyhound racing track, the main investor said on Friday.

Vietnamese are renowned for their culinary canine cuisine, but will have to keep their chopsticks well away from pedigree hounds to be imported from Ireland to race at the track.The $4.95 million joint venture - between the British Virgin Island-registered Hemlock Services, with 70 percent, and the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Tourism Co. - hopes to attract both foreign and Vietnamese punters.

The track is slated for Vung Tau city, some 75 miles southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, and the first dogs are expected to begin chasing the hare sometime in 1999. The investors said the government had approved an investment license.

Gambling is a dirty word in communist Vietnam and, as a leading social evil, is banned. The only legal gambling apart from state-run lotteries is at a horse racing track in Ho Chi Minh City.

A casino near Hai Phong, 75 miles east of Hanoi, can allow only foreigners to bet, while all Vietnamese citizens other than employees are barred from even going into the establishment.

Nguyen Ngoc My of Hemlock Services said he had taken 10 Vietnamese delegations to visit Australia to study betting systems and see dog racing.

"We'll probably limit the betting. We haven't worked it out properly yet," the Vietnamese-Australian said.