Latin American Gambling Markets Face Pivotal Elections In 2024

December 5, 2023
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After local observers blamed Mexico's recent decree banning slot machines and other casino games on electoral politics, Vixio GamblingCompliance takes a look at what other elections might mean for the future of gambling policy in Latin America. 
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After local observers blamed Mexico's recent decree banning slot machines and other casino games on electoral politics, Vixio GamblingCompliance takes a look at what other elections might mean for the future of gambling policy in Latin America.

Mexico’s presidential elections will be held on June 2, 2024, with incumbent Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) unable to seek re-election and his party's candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum, due to run against centre-right opponent Xóchitl Gálvez, a current senator.

The controversial move of AMLO to impose a ban on casino games in gaming halls, albeit only upon the expiry of current licences, was most likely a result of “the heated electoral times that we are experiencing in Mexico”, according to lawyer Alfredo Lazcano Sámano.

“The Mexican gaming industry has been very stable for the last two decades, so I think it’s likely that things will get back on track, one way or another, as soon as Mexican elections are over,” he told Vixio.

Carlos Portilla, a lawyer and Mexican gambling expert, suggested that perhaps because Mexico's gambling industry did not want the leftist AMLO as President, and gave their support to other parties in the last election, the recent move was a form of “revenge.”

Mexico is not the only Latin American country due to see a change of government in the coming months.

Few observers have clear expectations for next year's political landscape in Argentina, where self-proclaimed libertarian and populist Javier Milei is set to assume the highest office on December 10.

President-elect Milei ran on the economic policy of Thatcherite austerity, potentially to once again procure loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and dig the country out of its interminable and spiralling inflation. 

In reality, Milei is more well known for his shocking and polarizing statements, denying the reality of income inequality, a stance against abortion access and cloning his dog five times.

What Milei will have the actual political remit to do remains to be seen, as his party will not hold a majority in the National Congress and his particular brand of shock politics is not welcomed by international finance.

Milei’s promise to peg the wildly inflated Argentine peso to the dollar seems less likely in the immediate future as Argentina does not have enough dollars for such a manoeuvre, but he continues to threaten that it will eventually happen. 

Such a move, on its face, would simplify entering the market for foreign operators but complicate or possibly endanger the entire valuation of the peso, depending on which economist one asks.    

Alongside Milei's victory in the presidential election, new governors with more direct powers to gambling policy are also set to take office in several of Argentina's 23 provinces, including Cordoba, Santa Fe and Mendoza, which all have made recent moves to regulate online gambling.

Argentina’s neighbour to the north, Uruguay, will have its general elections on October 27, 2024, with a presidential run-off, if needed, on November 24.

Uruguay's Senate passed a bill to regulate online casino games in 2022, but the legislation has since languished in the Chamber of Deputies.

“There is still no certainty as to whether it will advance or not during this government period,” Luis Gama, former director of the National Lottery of Uruguay and managing partner at Gaming Consultores, told Vixio.

“There are many conflicting interests. There are some who promote the project and others who do not. And this will happen regardless of which political party is in government. Personally, I aspire to seriously discuss online gaming as a whole and legislate in that sense. The current government does not think this way.”

Neighbouring Paraguay held elections earlier this year, and Gama opined that the new government would be more open to the possibility of competitive online gaming operations, in place of a current monopoly market for a single sports-betting provider.

Elsewhere, elections also loom in Central America and the Caribbean in Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Panama will have general elections this spring on May 5. The front runner by a wide margin is former President Ricardo Martinelli, who despite his popularity was plagued by corruption scandals during his reign and accusations of cronyism and wiretapping his enemies. 

According to Wikileaks, Martinelli once told then-US ambassador Barbara Stephenson that “he had twisted the arms of casino operators and threatened to cancel their concessions if they did not pay their back taxes and cut their ties to the opposition political figures who had granted their generous concessions”.

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