Several betting operator chief executives lamented the lack of industry understanding among government regulators across Latin America while speaking at the SBC Summit Barcelona on Thursday (September 21).
“The challenge is that sometimes there is a lack of knowledge that is difficult to overcome with the local government. We’re not making cookies, this is entertainment,” said Betcris CEO JD Duarte.
Ramiro Atucha, CEO of Vibra Gaming, lamented the stigma still attached to gambling in many Latin American countries, with very little recognition of the positive economic impact of the industry across the region.
“I feel that the regulators are regulating gambling just because they have no choice. The worst insult you can give to any Latin American politician is that he is with gambling as if it was something bad,” Atucha said.
Atucha elaborated that it was the responsibility of gambling companies to show what they do “ in terms of jobs, in terms of salaries, in terms of investment, in terms of training, player protection, anti-money laundering”, as regulators across the board are “really treating us like enemies ... . And when regulators take this approach, the problem is that taxes are not taxes, they are punitive.”
Cristina Romero de Alba, a gambling law expert and partner at Madrid-based Loyra Abogados who advises companies active in Latin American markets, begged for better industry data.
“I always see regulators throw around numbers, ‘there is a 13 percent gambling addiction in the country.’ I've never seen a study and they don't even understand what addiction is, right. Sometimes they mix it up with general entertainment video game addiction which has nothing to do with it,” said Romero.
In recent weeks, Latin American authorities have taken several adverse actions against gambling operators.
Ecuador's President signed a decree last month to ban sports-betting advertising, while Mexico's interior ministry recently published a draft regulatory decree that threatens to prohibit all slot machines and table games in gaming halls.
Operators are also wary of the latest developments in Chile, where leading telecommunications provider Mundo Pacifíco was ordered by the Supreme Court last week to block access to international online betting platforms.
“What happened in Chile is because there is no advocacy for the industry in any of the three branches” of government, said Romero.
One exception to the struggle appears to be Peru, where government officials are in the final stages of implementing a law to establish a licensing regime for online gaming and sports betting.
“The regulator is open to us, they listen to us very carefully, we are working with them to have a nice regulation,” said Gonzalo Perez, CEO of Peruvian-facing betting operator Apuesta Total. “Of course, you do not have all that you want, but it is getting very close to what we expect.”
Perez said that it almost seemed “too good to be true”, and that MINCETUR, the Peruvian foreign investment and tourism ministry that will oversee online gambling, “recognise that they are not the experts”.
Peru’s regulations, which will trigger a 120-day period to apply for licences before the market goes live, were expected to be published at the end of July or in August.
A decree is now understood to be awaiting the final approval of the tourism minister, although further delays could be possible.