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Column 010305 Thompson

Monday, January 3, 2005

 

On-again, off-again casinos in Mexico

 

By Barnard R. Thompson

 

Mexican hold’em poker, to create an analogy apropos to casinos, would include the eccentricity of raising player’s and onlooker’s hopes to a fevered pitch and then — before anyone makes a final call, throwing in all the cards so that one and all could argue merits and morality and then start the vicious circle exercise anew, from the beginning.  Kind of a combination of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and Groundhog Day.

 

At least it seems that way after ten years of on-again, off-again debate in connection with the possible authorization of casinos in Mexico.

 

And it has happened again.  Anew.  Déjŕ vu.

 

While many expected a vote during the last session of Congress on the long-stalled gaming reforms — legislation that included consent to once again legalize casinos in Mexico, the bill never got out of two of the three responsible committees in the Chamber of Deputies.  This partly a result of politics, partly due to a surge in opposition from some influential sectors as the matter neared debate and partly because of chronic foot-dragging.

 

Than, in late December and in an effort to keep gaming legislation issues alive until the Chamber reconvenes in ordinary session, Tourism Committee chairman Francisco Xavier López Mena (PAN, Quintana Roo) summarized matters.

 

The legalization and installation of casinos at Mexico’s main tourist destinations would bring some US$10 billion in investments to the nation, which would subsequently attract between US$624 million and US$892 million annually, according to López.  Approximately 100,000 permanent jobs would be created.

 

Hence there is an urgent need to approve the new Federal Gaming with Wagers and Raffles Law.  As such, a revitalized effort will be made to pass the Law during the next legislative session that will begin on February 1 and end April 30.

 

However the current draft of the Federal Gaming with Wagers and Raffles Law will probably be changed yet again.

 

López said Tourism Committee members have decided to reopen public input and discussion on the matter, with anyone interested being able to submit comments and assessments up to March 9.  This is being done so that all those who have expressed opposition to casinos can submit their observations and studies on issues they feel have not been properly taken into account.

 

Over the past decade there have been a number of occasions when the subject of casinos has caused controversy and conflict in the Chamber of Deputies.  Accordingly, “we are of the opinion that (casinos) must be authorized according to a system of strict control so that the risks, that certainly do exists, are minimized,” said López.

 

Complaints heard most frequently in recent months, often from staunch opponents of casinos, relate to anticipated increases in crime, prostitution and corruption; money laundering; compulsive gambling; and social and family degradation.  Plus there are entrepreneurs who are apparently trying to protect their existing tourism interests.

 

With respect to crime, social and family problems, López said those issues are among the deputies’ greatest concerns.  For that reason significant safeguards and obligations are being incorporated into the Law that casino owners and operators will have to meet.

 

“We went even further,” López stated.  “We have proposed that when there is a casino in our country and it is shown that indices of crime, drug use or money laundering go up, authorities will have the power to closedown that casino.”

 

The casino related information received by March 9 will be studied and assessed by the committees involved.  “We will examine everything we receive, so that if appropriate we can enrich the proposal that at this time is being analyzed by the Finance and Government Committees.  In that way it can be submitted to all 500 deputies who would decide on this much debated subject before this legislature leaves office,” he said.

 

Following July 2006 elections, Mexico’s incoming congress will take office September 1.

 

However it is precisely those 2006 elections that may prove to be the nemesis of what López and his colleagues want to achieve.

 

Mexico’s legislative agenda is already being contaminated by the 2006 presidential race, and when the bleak congress reconvenes on February 1, 2005, that three-month period may be the last session during which already unproductive deputies might accomplish something.  The second session, to begin September 1, will likely be just too conflictive as that is when the parties will be selecting their presidential candidates.  And then come the campaigns and elections.

 

Still, if the casino issue is yet pending in late 2006 the never-ending cycle can just restart.  Again.