Puerto Rico will start accepting sports-betting license applications as soon as next month with the aim of seeing operators go live by Super Bowl weekend in February, according to the island’s chief gaming regulator.
Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly passed a sports-betting law in mid-2019 but the territory has since made slower progress on implementing the market compared with U.S. states that were similarly prevented from regulating sports wagering until the landmark Supreme Court ruling of May 2018.
Sports-betting regulations are now complete and are currently pending approval by Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, having been cleared by a U.S. federal government fiscal oversight board, said Orlando Rivera, executive director of the newly formed Puerto Rico Gaming Commission.
The commission currently hopes to start to accept license applications on November 20, Rivera told delegates at this week’s SBC Summit Latinoamerica in Miami.
The goal is for sports betting to be launched by the second week of February, in time for the Super Bowl, he said.
“I’m pleased to say that Puerto Rico is prepared and ready to enter the sports-betting market,” Rivera said.
The island’s legislation permits both online betting and retail sportsbooks at casinos and racetracks, as well as affiliated satellite locations such as hotels and off-track betting outlets.
The law was amended late last year, however, to require online operators to also have a retail location and for all accounts to be initially created in person at a physical sportsbook venue.
Puerto Rico promises to be unique market and potentially act as a bridge between the U.S. and Latin America, according to Rivera and fellow SBC summit panelists Juan Carlos Figueroa of GLI and Jorge Morales of Continent 8.
Puerto Rican operators will have to comply with U.S. federal laws such as the Wire Act and Bank Secrecy Act, but they will also enjoy the protections of the U.S. legal system. Puerto Rican regulations, in turn, borrow much from Nevada and New Jersey, Rivera said.
The gaming commission chief said the Puerto Rican market was drawing interest not only from U.S. operators such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM — which has already announced a local partnership — but also from more Latin American-facing operators such as Cirsa’s Sportium, Betsson and BetCRIS.
International companies might look to Puerto Rico as a “trampoline” to get into the U.S. market, Rivera suggested.
“Although we have the regulations of the United States, we have the advantage of being a Latin American country and the advantage of speaking the same language,” he said.
Puerto Rico’s established gambling market includes land-based casino-hotels, horseracing and most recently slot-route operations in bars, grocery stores and other locations.
A 2018 law that permits up to 25,000 legal slot machines and requires licenses and taxes for formerly grey-market devices has been equally tricky to implement, with recent litigation attempting to challenge the commission’s authority in the area.
Rivera said the gaming commission, which was established under the same 2019 law that legalized sports betting and fantasy sports, is in the process of establishing a compliance and enforcement division for the various sectors it now oversees.
Online sports betting is especially important for Puerto Rico because it is the island’s “first step” on online gambling in general, Rivera said.
Still, online casino games are also on the regulatory agenda, with Rivera hoping to educate more conservative lawmakers on the matter and draw up a draft law on internet gaming at some stage during the current administration of Governor Pedro Pierluisi.
With no online gambling, the gaming commission director noted that Puerto Rico has lost all gaming tax revenue when casinos have had to close due to the pandemic or hurricanes.
“That’s going to be our next step, potentially in the next three years once sports betting is established,” he said.