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Feature 021615 FNS-gaming

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Battle over Unlawful Gaming Machines in Mexico

Frontera NorteSur

A new front is open in the battle over gaming in Mexico. In recent days, Mexican federal authorities and promoters of pinball and slot-like machines have squared off over the proliferation of such games in mom-and-pop grocery stores and other businesses that attract young people. Marcela Gonzalez Salas, director of gaming regulation for the federal Interior Ministry, links the issue to national security, organized crime, school desertion, and gambling addiction.   

 

Speaking at a six-month report on the federal government's "Addiction is not a Game" campaign in Mexico City, Gonzalez insisted that the gaming machines, known as "tragamonedas," are patently illegal and will be curbed. The games allow players to win pesos. 

 

Gonzalez estimated that the machines, which began spreading across the country a decade ago, could currently number in the 115,000-120,000 range; during the last six months, federal law enforcement officials have taken 25,000 machines off the streets, the Peña Nieto administration official said.  

 

"Diverse establishments were closed that had as their principal activity (game) exploitation, as if they were mini-casinos," Gonzalez said.

 

"The complaints of parents, whose children abandon school and steal with the aim of being able to keep playing, is the principal source of information for detecting and taking out these machines," presidential spokesperson Eduardo Sanchez added. 

 

FNS has observed the so-called "tragamonedas" in widespread reaches of the Mexican Republic, extending from the border city of Ciudad Juarez into the south of the country. The number of gaming machines seems to have grown in recent months, with some host establishments now resembling the "mini-casinos" described by Gonzalez.

 

The year of the gaming machine boom cited by Gonzalez also coincided with the departure of Santiago Creel as Interior Minister. Prior to leaving office, Creel's agency, which is the principal authority charged with regulating gaming in Mexico, expended hundreds of new and controversial permits for large casinos and other big gaming establishments. 

 

In a counteroffensive to the Interior Ministry's "Addiction is not a Game" campaign, an association claiming to represent operators of the street-popular gaming machines is filing criminal complaints over law enforcement raids while pushing to get the contraptions fully legalized. 

 

The National Union of Gaming Machine Operators (Unama) estimates the number of commercial establishments hosting machines to be in the neighborhood of 700,000, which if true is far higher than the Interior Ministry's estimate. In a recent Mexico City press conference, the leadership of Unama conceded that some businesses might be using their proceeds to funnel money to persons dedicated to "criminal activities." 

 

In terms of social problems caused by the machines, Unama contended that most of the players are adults. Gambling addictions fomented by the machines approach the same magnitude as experienced in the legal industry, according to the industry group. Unama accused federal law enforcement officials, and private contractors presumably working for the government, of staging raids without legal orders, stealing money from machines, destroying the gambling devices in front of business owners, and reselling seized units. 

 

"(Government) should tell us where the confiscated machines are and the conditions they are in," said Araceli Gutierrez, Unama's president. "I've told (Gonzalez) about this situation and her only answer is, 'File a complaint.'"

 

Unama's proposal to regularize the "tragamonedas" comes at the same time that legislation that would expand other forms of gaming in Mexico awaits action in the Mexican Senate; the measure was approved by the lower house of Congress in the run-up to the Christmas holidays.

 

According to the Interior Ministry's Marcela Gonzalez, the gaming machines buzzing away on Mexico's streets could be enjoying an annual – and untaxed – take of around US$2 billion.

 

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Sources: El Sur/Agencia Reforma, February 11, 2015. Article by Antonio Barranda. La Jornada, February 10 and 13, 2015. Articles by Fabiola Martinez. Televisa, February 11, 2015. Proceso/Apro, February 10, 2015. Article by Alvaro Delgado. Teleformula, February 10, 2015.

 

Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS)

Center for Latin American and Border Studies

New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico

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