Two Paths to the Same Empty Pot of Gold: Online Casinos in Argentina and Brazil

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Argentina has chosen regulation while Brazil has gone with prohibition, but results have been similar as in both countries gamblers tend to prefer foreign online casinos.

Latin America in general has been slow to regulate the online gambling industry. Aside from the tiny island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, which became a hub for online gambling sites during the mid-1990s, most countries in the region have left the industry unlicensed and unregulated. The failure to license and tax gambling sites has lead to the loss of potential tax revenue as well as gamblers looking to overseas online casino sites and bookmakers. The biggest loser on this end is Brazil, whose massive market could be highly lucrative if the industry was regulated and taxed.

Argentina, the largest Spanish-speaking country south of Mexico, has bucked this unfortunate trend. It chose to regulate the industry early on, issuing its first online casino license in 2002. Now numerous sites are legally operating. Despite this, Argentine gamblers are flocking en masse to foreign-licensed casino sites.

Licensed online casinos in Argentina and Brazil

• Argentina issued its first online casino license in 2002; there are now roughly 80 licensed casino sites in the country

• Brazil banned land-based casinos in the 1960s and extended that ban to online casinos in the 1990s

• While the two countries have vastly different laws, in both cases punters tend to look overseas for online gambling opportunities

The first online casino in Argentina was Casino Sur, which received a license in 2002. The site offered a variety of table games and served customers in both English and Spanish. The industry has grown a lot since then, with 80 licensed online casinos now in operation. One of the most popular sites currently is Mundijuegos, which offers a wide range of Vegas-style casino games as well as bingo and regional favorites like Truco and Buraco.

While Argentina took the regulation approach, Brazil has veered toward prohibition. The authorities have taken a hard line on gambling for some time, banning land-based casinos during the 1960s. This ban was extended to online casinos shortly after they popped up in the 1990s. No licenses have been awarded, and operating an unlicensed site in punishable. But as in any prohibited activity, Brazilians still want to gamble. So they take their money overseas to one of countless international online casinos.

Brazilians look to distant shores

Despite the ban the market for online casinos and internet betting in Brazil is huge, with no shortage of foreign sites accepting wagers from Brazilian punters. Although the activity is illegal, the authorities do not block the IP addresses of online casino sites or punish citizens who use them. Some of the most popular sites are Betway, Mr. Green, Bet365, BetVictor and View. Several of these offer gameplay and support in both English and Portuguese. Dealing in the volatile Brazilian Real is unattractive to most providers, but a few such as Royal Vegas and Bet365 accept bets in the currency.

The authorities view this as both a social and fiscal problem, with money flying out of the country and into the pockets of foreign business people like Victor Chandler and Denise Coates. They have no authority to prevent foreign sites from serving local gamblers but have considered taking other measures. In 2012 legislators proposed blocking credit card transactions involving unlicensed gambling sites. However, the bill has languished, and gamblers can still use credit cards to place wagers with foreign online casinos.

For Argentines, the grass looks greener on the other side

Despite several licensed options at home, Argentine gamblers are inclined to take their wagers overseas. Why? There are two main reasons. The first is that it is difficult for upstart gambling sites in a medium-sized market like Argentina to compete with the biggest and best international online casinos. The bigger online casinos serve more players, so they can afford to offer more and better games as well as carry a lower house edge. As domestically-licensed providers serve a smaller market, they need to make a sizeable gross win from each player in order to be profitable.

Argentine gamblers are rational with how they bet their money, shopping around for the best options. Some of the most popular foreign internet casinos are Spin Palace, Mr. Green, Bet365 and BetVictor, among countless others. Most of these sites offer gameplay and support in both English and Spanish. Few are willing to accept the highly volatile Argentine Peso, but Bet365, Royal Vegas Casino and Platinum Play are a few exceptions.

You may ask, why doesn’t the government block unlicensed sites? That would partially stem the tide of gambling revenue flowing out of the country. Argentine gambling laws were revised in 2008 to ban the use of any gambling sites which to do not pay taxes to the government. But these laws have been unenforced, and the authorities do not punish players who use foreign sites, the IP addresses of such sites are not blocked, and banks which process gambling transactions are not punished.

Two roads to nowhere

Argentina has bucked regional trends and chosen to regulate the online gambling industry. Despite many licensed sites, gamblers tend to place wagers overseas, making the situation overall similar to that in Brazil, which completely prohibits online gambling. Both countries are facing the same problems in trying to keep money in the country and out of the pockets of foreign operators.

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