The Forecast In Uruguay: In Conversation With Luis Gama

September 2, 2022
​​​​​​​Uruguay’s former chief gambling regulator has warned of “serious mistakes” in the country’s advancing online gambling bill, in conversation with VIXIO.


Uruguay’s former chief gambling regulator has warned of “serious mistakes” in the country’s advancing online gambling bill, in conversation with VIXIO.

This week VIXIO GamblingCompliance sat down with Luis Gama, the former director of the National Directorate of Lotteries and Quinielas in Uruguay and now a consultant to the industry.

Gama discussed the pending online gambling legislation in Uruguay and the influence of casino operator Cipriani, which has poured millions of dollars into a hotel-casino complex project with the expectation that online gaming will soon be legalised in the country.

The pending bill in Uruguay, which was filed in November 2021 and made recent progress in the Senate, would allow online gaming either through the state or through operators that already operate licences for casinos.

According to the bill, newly legalised online casino games would be under the jurisdiction of the General Directorate of Casinos, while sports betting would remain controlled by the National Directorate of Lotteries and Quinielas.

Do you think the bill will pass in its current form, with gambling under the jurisdiction of two different organisations? If so, what problems could it create?

I believe that if the bill is passed unchanged in terms of establishing two executive units to deal with all matters related to online gambling, it would be a serious mistake.

There are no precedents at a regional level for the regulation of online gambling in a fragmented manner in which two organisations assume this responsibility.

Their intention is to deal with it in a specific way according to the types of games to be operated, but online gambling must be tackled as a whole, establishing clear objectives and a single criterion for its operation.

The implementation of preventative measures, the promotion of responsible gambling and the development of policies must be carried out by a single organisation to ensure a serious, coherent line of work in the right direction.

Pablo Monsuárez, Cipriani's lawyer, complained to the Senate about the bill a few months ago. Do you think Cipriani has reason to be happier now?

The messages coming from the group (Cipriani) are at times contradictory and for that reason it is sometimes difficult to guess what they are thinking or what their position is on the bill.

The bill pays special attention to those who, in the future, will acquire the status of casino gaming concessionaires and establishes that the licence will be operational and authorised after the approved investment is verified and the operation of face-to-face gaming begins. It aims to ensure that the investment is carried out with the funds originally committed and not with the proceeds from the operation of online casino games. The Cipriani project falls into the latter category.

If there is any disagreement on the part of the group with regard to the project that has been approved by the national parliament, it could be valid to think that there was an intention to start running online gaming and at the same time start the projected investments.

This scenario is not likely to happen anymore, as the bill is very clear and forceful in this sense. In the rest of its content, the project offers a new line of business complementary to face-to-face gambling.

Why is there resistance from the Cabildo Abierto political party?

I honestly don't know whether it is resistance to the project in general or objections to one part of it. Some of the possible objections are the result of such a lack of knowledge that they think that regulating the project means encouraging or promoting gambling.

They find it difficult to understand that gambling is already established and that the only thing a law seeks to do is to regulate the activity.

Uruguay has a reputation for being a very liberal place. Marijuana is legal and it was the first country to legalise abortion in Latin America. Why do you think online gambling regulation has taken so long?

Certain activities have slower processes because the private interest is prioritised over the collective interest. This happened in the case of gambling in our country.

I think that there was a lack of willingness on the part of different stakeholders in the industry to think of an integral solution and not a sectoral one. At the same time, there was a lack of an ambitious attitude on the part of the state in terms of regulating the online sector as a whole.

We should also add that — as in the rest of the countries in the region — there is no defined state policy for gambling. This means that in many cases we arrive late and badly and we legislate in a partial manner, attending to the problems of the moment and not taking a more long-term view.

I believe that if it is confirmed that the bill becomes law, it is just one more step towards further progress in the regulation of the whole gambling issue. More legislative or regulatory actions are needed to prioritise gambling as a whole, attending to the needs of the gambling public, ensuring transparency and security in the gambling sector.

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