South American Casinos

Throughout South America, gaming continues to thrive and expand. In the more developed areas of the South American continent, casino gambling is becoming an increasingly popular pastime. As in the Caribbean, the casino market in South America is also closely tied to the tourist industry, although some regions allow locals to gamble and entice them with low prices on food and beverages. Lotteries, pari-mutuel betting, sports wagering, table games and slot machines are legal in most jurisdictions. Even online gaming is permitted in seven jurisdictions, though most countries do not have specific regulations in place.

Argentina
Argentina has the most expansive gaming market in South America with more than 500 gaming locales and more than 25,000 gaming machines. The country is also home to the continents’ largest gambling hall, Casino de Tigre (or Trilenium Casino). While Argentina’s casino industry is mostly privatized, a number of properties are owned by the National Lottery Company of the Republic of Argentina, Loterìa Nacional Sociedad del Estado de la Republica Argentina. American-based Pinnacle Entertainment has had success with two smaller casinos in Argentina, Casino Magic-Neuquén and Casino Magic-San Martin de los Andes. Other owners and operators include Codere, Worest, Casino Club S.A., Cirsa Casino Corporation, Casinos del Litoral S.A., Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Gaming Management, Casinos Austria International, Punto y Banca S.A. and others.

As in many other countries around the world, Argentina is also struggling with its online gaming regulations. According to Casino City’s 2008 Global Gaming Almanac, “The Argentinean province of Formosa grants online gaming licenses through the Instituo de Asistencia Social.” However, recent bills proposed by Councilor Luis Alberto Mauri and others look to stop Argentineans from online gaming by blocking all online gambling Internet Service Providers until the country can properly regulate and control the online gaming industry. It seems the country would support the online gaming industry if it was properly regulated and taxed.

Brazil
The fifth largest country in the world, Brazil is home to a diverse population, geography and climate. But one thing the country lacks is a diverse gaming market. Since President Lula da Silva shut down the country’s gaming halls in 2004, the country has struggled to reopen the market in a regulated and legal way. Pro-gaming organizations have supported numerous efforts to reintroduce the development of legalized gaming in an effort to boost tourism. But, to this day, the legality of slot parlors in Brazil is vague. Of course, like many other countries in Central and South America, there continues to be a thriving illegal gaming market throughout Brazil. One type of gambling the country seems to have legalized is lotteries. Currently, eight lotteries are registered with the Caixa Economica Federal. The Caja Economica Federal Brazil is the governing lottery agency. Only time will tell if this large South American country will again open its borders to legalized gaming.

Chile
Chile recently expanded its legalized gaming market in 2005 with the passage of the Casino Act, which increased the number of gaming licenses from seven to 24. The act also called for the creation of the Chilean Casino Commission, led by the Casino Superintendent, to license and regulate the industry. As of 2008, 15 casinos were operational and nine more are expected to open in 2009. The country is using this expansion of gaming to help promote tourism in Chile, as well as increase tax revenues and economic development. Both foreign and local investors have contributed to the country’s new economic sector.

Mexico
In the last four months, most news surrounding Mexico’s gaming market has revolved around the Swine Flu pandemic. While the pandemic made waves through the country and had a negative effect on the tourism market, the country continues to face a much larger problem: the rampant illegal gaming market. While debates over the transparency, legality and regulation of Mexico’s gaming market continue to exist, it seems the country is no closer to making any official changes to the currents laws. “If any regulations are to change in the Mexican gaming industry, it must be in the next 24 months,” says Jose Luis Benavides, Mexico’s official representative for the Instituto Interamericano de Derecho Sobre Juegosde Azar y Apuestas (IIAA), the Latin American Gambling Institute. “After that, any kind of political effort looks impossible because all the political parties will be involved in the 2012 presidential election.” Currently, the Mexican Congress is in recess and will not resume until Sept. 1.

Panama
Since the turn of the century, Panama has enjoyed the privatization of the nation’s gaming industry, which has allowed the country to develop a substantial market over the last few years. Today, tourists and locals can visit slot halls and racetracks and make sports bets and gamble online. The country also has had a national lottery since 1914.

In 2008, gross casino revenues reached more than $1 billion in Panama, making the country the third largest gaming jurisdiction in South America. More than 50 licensed gambling halls offer players opportunities to place wagers, and 15 land-based casinos can be found throughout the country. Panama is also one of the only regions in South America to have defined clear regulations on online gaming and will likely serve as an example for other countries in the region as they look to do the same.

Peru

Like the country’s beautiful but rocky mountainous landscape, Peru’s gaming industry has had its ups and downs. For years, the government swung between outlawing gambling all together or regulating and taxing it. Currently, the Peruvian government allows gaming throughout the country, giving tourists and locals the opportunity to wager in casinos, slot parlors, on lotteries and horse races. There are many laws that govern the specifics about gaming locations and operations, and currently the government is reviewing the applications of an additional 770 slot parlors. In addition, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism recently approved regulations to control and avoid money laundering in casino games and slot machine operations.

The country also recently granted its first online gaming service provider license. “The first online gaming license was granted in July 2008,” says Carlos Fonseca, a gaming law attorney based in Lima, Peru. “The license was granted by the Municipality of Surquillo in the city of Lima in favor of the Iberian Software S.A.C.” Currently, the country is in the approval process of the online system for the control of slot machines.
“Overall, Peru’s gaming industry is a free market,” says Fonseca. “There is not a limited number of licenses that the government grants. As long as the interested company meets all the requirements, it is relatively easy to obtain a license.” Because of this free-market structure, Peru has experienced more economic development than almost any other country within South America this year. At present, there are more than 70,000 slot machines and 800 slot parlors in Peru.

While this article is by no means a comprehensive look at gaming in the Caribbean and South and Central America, it is apparent that much activity is taking place in the gaming markets south of the U.S. border. With recent legalization of gaming in many of these countries, it is clear that gaming throughout the world is continuing to grow—Swine Flu and global economic crisis or not.