Monday, January 26, 2004
Might casinos be in the cards in Mexico?
By Barnard R. Thompson
Annually the prospect of Mexico reauthorizing gambling
casinos, after a 70-year prohibition, reemerges. And the possibility is again
anticipated, that is if the congress might finally move the issue forward.
Still, first year deputies in the lower chamber may
be politically motivated stumbling blocks, following in the path of their recalcitrant immediate predecessors. In fact, there are early signs that opposition party deputies especially will drag their obstructionist
feet on many legislative proposals now more than ever, with the goal of gaining partisan advantages in the 2006 presidential
and congressional elections.
Then again, with respect to gambling and games of
chance, a forthcoming government action just might get somebody — whether they are in favor of casinos or not —
to do something.
Draft legislation, to replace the obsolete Federal
Gambling and Raffles Law of 1947, was marked up in 2002 only to be let sit by the Chamber of Deputies. The initiative, now identified as the Federal Betting Games, Raffles and Casinos Law, includes more than
100 articles that seek to regulate all gaming in Mexico, and to thus do away with the many clandestine betting operations
(including illegal casinos) that are found nationwide.
But it is the legalization and phased opening of
casinos, at select locations, that are at the heart of interest, controversy and politics.
As well, foreign collaborators are anxious to get into Mexico and many Mexicans see the foreign investment, plus the
resulting jobs and tourism income, as definitely important to the future of the nation.
The current efforts toward legal reform were drafted
in conjunction with studies and plans that propose a first phase concessionaires allowance of eight to 12 freestanding Monte
Carlo or Montreal-type casinos, “betting centers” like those that were banned by President Lázaro Cárdenas in
Opponents today argue that where there are casinos
there is organized crime, and that the facilities could become money laundries or worse.
The potential for crime and social ills that include drug trafficking and use, prostitution and gambling addictions
are emphasized, in opinions that contend whole communities could be corrupted.
The different political parties have jumped back
and forth in support and/or opposition to casinos over the past few years. In
April 2003, the National Action Party (PAN) revived past objections — and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
immediately countered with guarded support. More recently the Democratic Revolution
Party (PRD) came out publicly in favor of legalizing casinos.
President Vicente Fox, in late July, named Rodolfo
Elizondo Torres to be Secretary of Tourism, and this immediately revived speculation as Elizondo had led PAN factional advocacy
for casinos when he served both in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Soon
after moving to Tourism, in his first press conference, Elizondo reiterated his enthusiasm for casinos. Saying that “Mexico could become the second Las Vegas,” he maintained that regulated casinos
are needed by the national tourism sector. And in October the president himself
seemed to throw down the gauntlet to his own party, when he sent representatives to congress to quietly lobby in favor of
But nothing really happened, in congress at least.
Gonzalo Altamirano Dimas, an official with the Secretariat
of Government (SG), the powerful interior ministry — that includes regulatory oversight and permit issuance for betting
activities and locations, games of chance (including so-called “skill games”) and raffles among its responsibilities,
announced in December that a Regulation of the Federal Gambling and Raffles Law is near completion. He also expressed the administration’s hope that congress will act on the pending legislation itself
and amend the law during its next session that convenes in March.
“We have said there is an urgent (need) for
the new legislation. We are preparing a Regulation to go into effect immediately
upon passage of the law, however if the legislation continues to be deferred we will still have to put the Regulation into
action,” Altamirano said. Emphasizing that the enhanced Regulation is needed
for legal gambling and raffle activities, he also said it will be an important tool to ensure the fight against illegal gaming
As to the current situation, Altamirano was asked
if members of congress had been given any kind of ultimatum or deadline with respect to the casino initiative?
Noting that the SG does not interfere in the legislative
process, he said: “We are not setting deadlines, we are simply waiting. And
we have been waiting since the last legislature (when) regrettably the subject of casinos became politicized and kept the
legislation as a whole from moving ahead.”
Thompson (a www.mexidata.info columnist) has spent over 40 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing business, professional, lobbying and problem
resolution services for multinational clients. He is a principal in MIRA Associates, based in San Diego, California. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com.