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A guide to Gambling in Latin America. Argentina

A guide to Gambling in Latin America. Argentina

South and Central America are gaining a momentum in asserting itself as one of the top global gambling destinations. Quite a few countries here now offer a wide array of various land-based gambling options ranging from casino gaming to sports betting. However, the legal status of gambling varies from a well-defined legislature and effective governance in some countries to a vaguely defined legal framework and poor or lack of regulation in others. In some countries, such as Brazil, for example, gambling is officially banned, although, illegal gambling thrives and is estimated at as much as US$6.4 billion, according to the Brazilian Legal Gaming Institute.

We will examine the most gambling-friendly countries in Latin America one by one, which are Argentina, Colombia, and Chile.

Argentina is undoubtedly a leader of the gambling industry in South America, with the total gambling revenue, according to some industry experts, amounting to approximately €13.61 billion in 2017. ( According to http://www.translationroyale.com/argentina-online-gambling-market/)

Argentina is a home to 172 land-based gambling facilities in 133 cities of the country’s 23 provinces, and the independent province of Buenos Aires provinces of the country. According to the World Casino Index, as of March 2017, there were more than 80 casinos with more than 12,000 slot machines in Argentina. Since f2016, Casino Hippodrome de Palermo has been rated the sixth largest gambling facility in the whole world, containing 4,600 slot machines, not including a multitude of other gaming machines and tables.

Practically all types of gambling are legal in Argentina. What is quite remarkable is that unlike many other countries, games of chance and games of skill in Argentina are not regulated on the federal level and fall under regional jurisdiction of each of 23 Argentinian provinces. The exception is the National Lottery that has been governed by the federal laws. Land-based gambling establishments are required to obtain gambling licenses from corresponding gambling authorities in their provinces.

Gambling regulations are particularly controversial in the city of Buenos Aires. According to Buenos Aires city autonomous jurisdiction, it is illegal to open casinos or bingo houses in the city. However, Casino Hippodrome de Palermo was granted an exemption as a “racino”, on the basis that it is connected to a horseracing track at Hippodrome Argentina de Palermo.

In addition, the city of Buenos Aires’ is home to two floating casinos anchored to the pier at Puerto Madero. The owners of the two casino ships “Estrella de la Fortuna” claim their isolated legal status on the grounds that they are operating their businesses on national waters.

All types of gambling are popular in Argentina: slot machines, bingo halls,  betting on horses, roulette and blackjack, craps, poker tables and of course, lottery.

It really was the horse racing which first introduced gambling into the Argentinian culture with the opening of Jockey Club of Buenos Aires in 1882. For a whole century after this, betting on horses expanded greatly throughout Argentina, and in 1979, a comprehensive nationwide totalizer gambling system was implemented in Argentine to cater for betting at racecourses. A total of 597 cash-betting machines were set up across the country.

Since 2004, off-track betting became available through lottery agencies as well as by making bets over the phone allowed. Currently, there are over 700 lottery outlets in the province of Buenos Aires. Prior to August 2018, the National and provincial lotteries typically handled close to US$ 1.53 billion in bets per year.

Bingo is a big business across Argentina. Some Argentinian provinces have enormous bingo halls and slot parlors. A Spanish company Codere operates over 5,200 slot machines in Argentinian bingo parlors, which makes the company a top supplier for the industry.

Argentinians are big fans of soccer, so it is not surprising that betting on football has been a much-preferred type of wagering among Argentinian punters, which since the year 2000 has been run through the national lottery system. Although Argentina banned betting on soccer results in 2018, a lot of betting on football is done through online sportsbook sites, which are somewhat in the grey area in terms of legality.

Gambling is a huge business in Argentina. In 2015, a total of US$ 2.2 billion was disbursed to gambling venue operators on operating expenses, salaries and earnings. Therefore, it is not surprising that the government strives to squeeze the most revenue it can from casino businesses to fill its coffers. It is estimated that the land-based gambling industry in Argentina brings over $4 billion pesos in tax revenue annually and that number is growing.

At the end of 2016, the Argentinian government came up with a decree, mandating the corporate gambling tax to be increased from 35 percent to 41.5 percent. According to the decree, land-based casino operators are to be taxed with a steep 41.5 percent tax rate charged on operators’ corporate income, along with  0.75 percent federal slot tax applied on each wager made in slot and bingo machines.

Despite the avid leniency towards gambling by the Argentinian government, the controversy remains. The issue centers on the taxes over the income generated by the gambling establishments, and whether taxing of these entities should be under a federal jurisdiction or a provincial one.

For example, as the national economy of Argentina continues to shrink, some opposition forces from the national government are considering implementing additional tax duties or nationalizing floating casinos under the jurisdiction of the city of Buenos Ayres. As the casinos’ license expires in October 2019, its future legal and ownership status faces uncertainty.

However, notwithstanding the disputes over the jurisdiction’ and taxes issues, the gambling climate of Argentina, which is rightfully referred to as the “Vegas of South America”, remains very welcoming and encouraging for anyone who interested in any of its activities and facilities.

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