Gambling Guide to Latin America

28 February 2018, by GambleScope Research Team

Gambling Guide to Latin America Photo

Latin America is one of the fastest growing markets in the world when it comes to online gambling. When you consider the enormous numbers of potential customers, it is little surprise that online gambling sites are keen to tap into this region. As smartphones become more affordable and wi-fi connections more readily available, this huge population is coming online. Latin America is a sports loving region, and where there is sports, there will be betting. Add in a fascination with games of chance and you can see that this is one part of the world where online gambling is flourishing. We are going to take a closer look at some of the major gambling markets in Latin America, and examine the legal status of online and offline gambling in these countries.

Let’s start with the largest country in South America: Brazil. With a population of more than 200 million and a fervent love of football - not to mention lottery games - this is a prime target for gaming companies. The status of gambling is a little bit complicated though, and that’s putting it mildly. The laws which are currently in force relating to gambling date all the way back to the 1940s. These state that any kind of ‘luck based’ gambling is illegal, and that includes sports betting. Obviously the internet was not even the germ of an idea in the ‘40s, meaning that online gambling is currently unregulated in Brazil. There are two Gambling bills slowly wending their way through the Brazilian houses of government, but these things move very slowly in Brazil. Both of the bills seeks to legalise all offline gambling such as sports betting and casinos. However, while one bill would legalise online gambling, the other would outlaw it completely. It just depends on which of the two bills is eventually passed into law, assuming that day will actually arrive at some stage. At the moment, it is very easy to bet online, with international gaming companies actively looking for Brazilian customers. It can be tricky to process payments from Brazil, but aside from that the online gambling market is absolutely thriving. 

Brazil’s neighbour, Argentina, has some of the most liberal rules in Latin America when it comes to gambling. Basically, all types of gambling are legal, although this is regulated by each individual state rather than by centralised government. What this means is that different laws apply according to where in the country you are. Currently there are over 70 land based casinos in Argentina, offering all the gaming options you would expect. The capital Buenos Aires is a special case, as it is forbidden to open new casinos or bingo halls here. However, there are two floating casinos which are permanently moored at the port. They argue that they are not flouting any laws as they are in national waters, and have come to be accepted in the city. When it comes to online gambling, locally based companies are allowed to offer this in certain states, although very few licences have been granted to date. Of course there are hundreds of international sites to choose from, and most of these are more than happy to welcome Argentinian players.

Mexico has long had a tradition of gambling, and with a huge population of more than 130 million it is a major market. However, the legality or otherwise of gambling remains somewhat murky, with the law relating to gambling dating all the way back to 1947. This law allowed for some gambling, although there are restrictions in place. There are currently around 300 casinos in this Central American country, with most of them to be found in resorts and aimed at the tourist market. That being said, it is permitted for locals over the age of 21 to visit casinos in Mexico, and this is a country which even allows for betting on cockfighting. Legislation has been proposed to cover online gambling, but so far nothing has been passed in this regard. Effectively this means that online gambling is permitted, with Mexican bettors very welcome to join international casinos and other betting sites.

Most offline gambling activities are legal in Colombia, and are controlled by a state body called the Coljuegos. Laws in 1991 and 2001 made it law that all games of chance - including sports betting, casinos, bingo and lotteries - are to be state controlled and with the revenue to be used for social purposes. However, many believe that these laws have become outdated and that a new bill should be passed, specifically to address the issue of online gambling. At the moment, only a small number of state run lottery games can legally be played online. All other forms of online gambling are illegal in Colombia. International sites attempting to offer gambling options to Colombians risk being banned for 5 years, although in practice this has not happened. Instead, many Colombians use international online betting site, as there is no law preventing them from doing so. Likewise, the international sites do not seem to be concerned that the Colombian government will actually impose a ban, and most continue to welcome Colombian bettors.

Back in the 1940s and ‘50s, Cuba - and specifically the capital Havana - was synonymous with gambling. American tourists would travel over to the tropical island to indulge in the frenetic nightlife and many casinos in the city. However, the notion of Cuba as a tropical Las Vegas would disappear once Fidel Castro took control of the country. When Castro came to power in the late 1950s he soon put a ban on all forms of gambling, a ban that is in place to this day. Of course it is one thing to impose such a law, and another to enforce it, and the advent of online gambling has added a level of complexity not imagined in the fifties. Gambling does still take place in illegal gaming houses, and although less than half the population has access to the internet online gambling is on offer from international companies.