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Changing times for Mexico’s gambling laws

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The urge to place a wager is a human instinct that is as old as civilization, and enterprising souls have been turning it to a profit for just as long. Yet over the past decade, the online age has transformed the gambling industry into something bigger and further-reaching than the bright lights of Las Vegas or the drama of the horse racing track. 

Online gambling is an industry that generates about $50 billion in revenue every year. By 2030, industry experts predict that figure will treble to around $150 billion. Partly that is down to people gambling more, but it will also be due to more people gambling as new markets open up. Mexico is increasingly under the spotlight as a possible candidate.

Changing times and changing laws

Back at the turn of the 20th century, during the Porfiriato, Mexico was home to a number of French-style casinos. Gambling became subject to increasing restrictions following the Mexican revolution, until it was outlawed almost entirely by the 1948 Gaming Law. 

Over the intervening years, there has been plenty of debate over gambling laws in Mexico. Some specific activities have remained legal, such as licensed bingo and lottery games that are regulated by the Ministry of the Interior and betting on horse racing, bull fighting, cock fighting and greyhound racing. 

Since the turn of the millennium, there has been a growing sense of willingness to relax gambling laws in Mexico. In 2004, sports betting was legalized on the pragmatic grounds that people enjoy doing it, and it generates about $300 million in gross taxable revenue. That, of course, was before smartphones further revolutionized our online activities and provided even easier ways to gamble online.  

The unstoppable march of online casinos

The logic that led to legalization of online sports betting in Mexico can be equally applied to casino gaming. However, there is one additional factor. It is very difficult to apply national borders in cyberspace, and whether online casinos are legalized within Mexico or not, people in Mexico will visit them and spend money. 

The Mexican government has discussed blocking these online casinos, or making it harder to use them by prohibiting domestic banks from transacting funds with them. The trouble is, this is a strategy that has been attempted in places like Australia, and it simply doesn’t work. 

To date, the Australian regulator has instructed its ISPs to block more than 300 casino sites,  but new ones appear every week, or users simply use VPNs to circumvent the blocks. Likewise, digital wallets and cryptocurrency are easy alternatives to bank transfers or card payments. 

Discussions are already at an advanced stage for legal reforms that will allow the creation of 35 new casinos along the US / Mexican border. Legalization of online gambling and the creation of a formal system for their regulation seems an obvious next step. There are no guarantees and there is no timetable, but it is surely only a question of when, not if, it will happen. 

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