A new law passed in Córdoba a few days after Christmas means each of Argentina’s five largest provinces has now approved legislation for online gambling, with 2022 set to be a pivotal year as operations launch across one of Latin America’s most complex markets.
Members of the Córdoba legislature voted 46-14 on December 29 to pass a bill to regulate online casino and lottery games plus sports betting in the province of roughly 3.5m people.
Under Law 10793/2021, the Córdoba Province Lottery is mandated to adopt regulations and hold a competitive tender process to issue up to ten licences each valid for 15 years. Lottery officials also have authority to raise the maximum number of licensees to 20, while the lottery itself can obtain its own licence for online gambling as well.
As in the larger province of Buenos Aires, international operators are eligible to obtain a licence strictly through a so-called UTE investment partnership that must be at least 15 percent owned by an Argentine entity. Applicants also must be domiciled in Córdoba.
The legislation does not specify a final tax rate, which would instead be set through the licensing process. However, the rate cannot be less than 10 percent of gross online gambling revenue.
Córdoba’s legislation does not signal a “massive and uncontrolled liberalisation”, with unregulated sites already “a reality” in the province, the bill’s co-author, Silvia Paleo, told the provincial government’s official news service.
“The only possible path toward responsible gaming is to have safe gaming, and for that we have to establish clear and concrete guidelines for the operators and for users,” Paleo said.
Córdoba’s legislation continues the rapid spread of regulations for online gambling across Argentina’s 24 semi-autonomous regions.
The law was passed roughly three weeks after the federal capital city of Buenos Aires oversaw the launch of its first half-dozen licensees — Codere, Betsson, BetWarrior, Jugadón, Bplay and Super7 — under a late 2018 law similarly regulating both online gaming and sports betting.
BetWarrior, partnered with Intralot and local gaming operator BinBaires, also launched in December in the neighbouring province of Buenos Aires, according to the operator’s homepage.
Bet365, William Hill and Betsson — three of six further partnerships selected for licences in Argentina’s most populous province — have also been approved to launch and are expected to do so within the next few weeks, per a December 23 report by the Infocielo news service.
In Argentina’s other larger regions, online casino games were also launched last year in the province of Santa Fe pursuant to a 2020 regulatory decree that granted exclusivity to incumbent land-based operators CityCenter Rosario and Boldt Gaming’s Bplay.
The province of Mendoza, Argentina’s fifth largest, passed legislation in 2020 to award between two and seven online gambling licences.
Lottery officials are still drafting regulations and licensing criteria but are “very advanced” and hope to complete the process during the first half of this year, Ida Lopez, president of Mendoza’s lottery and casino authority, told local newspaper El Sol last month.
Córdoba’s legislation means online gambling has been legalised in 15 of 24 Argentina jurisdictions, representing more than 85 percent of the country’s total population, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance research.
Still, it also further underlines the complexities of an Argentine market being regulated very much on a province-by-province basis.
Although Córdoba is following the Buenos Aires Province model of limited licensing involving UTE partnerships, a majority of provinces restrict their markets to incumbent lotteries or land-based casinos, with European-style open licensing in place only in the city of Buenos Aires.
Observers of Argentina’s gambling market have previously cautioned that replacing the current province-by-province system with a national framework as in Spain or Germany is likely to be politically challenging, given the highly politicised nature of gaming in the country and historic rivalries between political groupings and supposedly well-connected industry executives.
Regulators and lawyers also recently warned that the national government could come to exercise its federal authority over advertising, should Argentina see a similar public backlash to ads as European countries.
Under Córdoba’s new law, media companies will have to ensure that they carry advertisements strictly for authorised operators and that specific ads or promotions have been approved by the province’s lottery.
There was also no shortage of opposition to the legislation in Córdoba, with the local Catholic Church and several newspaper editorials urging lawmakers to reject the bill and politicians in the province’s eponymous capital city introducing their own proposal to ban online gambling within city limits.
At a national level, regulatory officials that serve as members of the Argentine Association of State Lotteries (ALEA) last year adopted a code of best practices for the advertising of online gambling and are urging licensed operators to deploy local websites using a bet.ar domain name in order to distinguish themselves from offshore providers.
In a December 27 statement, ALEA said the pandemic had elevated the need for all provinces to regulate online gambling.
“Only officially authorised entertainment guarantees the control and prevention of money laundering, the protection of pathological players through responsible gaming programs and the generation of legitimate revenues that are directed toward the well-being of each one of the communities where these bets are placed,” ALEA said.