Gambling in Mexico
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Mexican Betting Laws
Mexico is one of the few Latin America countries where gambling isn’t entirely legal. Reasons for the lack of full-scale gambling include the influence of the Catholic Church, history and politics.
But despite Mexico’s reluctance to fully embrace gambling, the country inches closer and closer to that goal every year. Gamblers in Mexico can enjoy betting on horse racing, dog racing, Jai Alai, bullfighting, cockfighting, sports betting, lottery and scratch-off cards. Video-style gaming machines are also readily available, and casino-style games like blackjack and roulette can be found if you look hard enough.
A Brief History of Mexican Gaming
Whether wagering on sports or simply for recreation, gambling in Mexico goes back past the time of the Aztecs.
And it has been as active part of the Mexican culture since the 19th century, when the French made an effort to colonize the country. During the 30 year reign of Porfirio Diaz, French-style casinos could be found all across the landscape. However, the 1911 Mexican Revolution ended Diaz’s rule and put a hold on the gambling industry for a time.
After the Mexican Civil War
It came back to prominence in the 1920s, as Americans were looking for a legal place to gamble outside of their country. But this boom period couldn’t last forever, and reformist president Lazaro Cardenas eventually declared gambling illegal in 1935. In 1947, a gaming law was passed to further cement the supposed death of the gambling industry. As of this writing, that law is still in place.
After the new law was passed, most casinos were forced to shut their doors. However, some managed to remain in operation simply on the business generated by their hotels. One notable hotel of the time, the Hotel Rosarito in Tijuana, generated income by converting their casino floor into a ballroom dance hall.
Gambling in Late 20th Century Mexico
Since that time, there has been a constant debate on whether or not to make gambling fully legal in Mexico. Each new president will usually state his intentions to do so, but the citizens have grown somewhat cynical about such promises.
Supporters of legalized gambling tend to be members of the hotel or tourism industry, and business-minded members of the government. They argue that legal gambling will create a tourism boom, which will in turn lead to more jobs and increased revenue for Mexico’s economy.
Opponents fear that greater foreign investment would lead to more foreign control over Mexico. They also fear the involvement of organized crime and drug cartels, especially in the area of money laundering. And then there are those who simply feel that gambling is morally wrong and will lead to the decline of traditional family values in the country.
In 1989, the Tijuana-based Caliente received permission from the Mexican government to offer sports betting. While not a outright approval of legalized gambling, it certainly moved the country one step in the right direction.
Vicente Fox on Gambling
In 2000, Vicente Fox assumed the role of Mexico’s president. He promised to replace the 1947 law with one which would allow casinos, as well as more clearly define which games were legal and illegal. Unfortunately for pro-gambling advocates, Fox was unable to follow through on his promises. The 1947 law was kept on the book, but the government did decide to help regulate the sports book and bingo industries.
While the politicians wrangled over the issue, some gaming groups simply went out and opened businesses featuring video gambling machines (similar to Class II machines in the United States). They obtained a court injunction, known as an amparo, to keep the government from taking action against them. In many other cases, the gaming parlors went underground and were known only by word of mouth.
In 2004, the Secretaria de Gobernacion (similar to the U.S. Ministry of the Interior), which oversees the gambling and raffles department, took action and issued regulations which would allow the operation of certain numbers-based games. Those opposed to gambling were greatly upset when outgoing Secretary of State Santiago Creel approved more gaming licenses in a month than had been approved from 1917 to 2004.
Gambling Available in Mexico
Mexico is comprised of 31 states and the federal district of Mexico City. Below, I have provided a brief discussion of the games you might find throughout the country.
Please note that the legality of these games is still in question. While the 1947 law is still on the books, most forms of gambling are technically illegal in Mexico (betting on sports, dominoes, dice and pool are legal). However, that often doesn’t seem to stop the locals.
The legal age to gamble (and drink) in Mexico is 18.
Video Gambling Machines
These machines can be found at casinos and mini-casinos across the country. They have a bingo-like quality which allows the player to affect the game in subtle ways, thus making the games legal under the new 2004 guidelines. For this reason, they are very close to the Class II machines found in the United States.
In the typical Mexican bingo parlor, you might find as many as 200 to 300 machines. Payouts usually average from 94 to 96 percent.
Much like in the United States, bingo is a very popular recreational game and charitable fund raiser.
National lotteries have existed in Mexico for hundreds of years. In recent times, American-style scratch-off cards have also started gaining in popularity. Lottery operator GTECH Holding Corp. has even signed a contract to run an online lottery.
Cockfighting is a very popular form of gambling in Mexico. Basically, steel blades are secured onto the spurs of the birds and they fight until one emerges as the clear winner. While sports books do not take action of the fights, audience members will gladly place wagers with one another.
While technically illegal, the Mexican officials tend to turn a blind eye to the events, as they are very popular with the people.
A traditionally popular sport in Mexico, most of the larger cities have a bullfighting ring. In fact, Mexico City has the largest ring in the world and can hold 55,000 people. It’s not for the squeamish, thought, as the bull is pierced with small spears and usually finished off with a sword through the heart. Still, an avid gambler will find many takers who are more than willing to make wagers on the outcome.
It is expected that over 35 gaming sites may be built within 50 miles of the Mexico/U.S. border. The Viva Las Vegas casino in Matamoros is one example.
There are also plans to construct casinos in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. Of course, gambling still isn’t legal in Mexico, so many of these plans may be subject to change.
While table gaming has yet to be legalized, you can find slot machines and sports betting at these facilities. Poker can be found in some casinos, such as the one inside Hotel Arawak. Caribbean Poker is very popular, as well as Texas Hold’em and Stud Poker.
Plans have also been made to construct casinos in the Mexico City area and in border towns such as Tijuana and Ciudad.
Horse racing, dog racing and Jai Alai are all popular gambling opportunities in Mexico. These three gaming venues make up the majority of Mexican pari-mutuel gambling.
The Juarez race track and Hippodrome de la Americas in Mexico City are among the most popular horse racing venues, while the Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana is a great place to watch greyhound races. Tijuana is also a very popular destination for fans of Jai Alai (where the ball can travel up to 188 mph).
Sports betting is legal in Mexico, with Mexican sports betting operations taking wagers on various national and international sporting events.
Caliente is the largest race and sports book in Mexico, and they have over 50 betting parlors across the country, as well as offering bets over the phone or Internet. They are especially popular in Baja California, which is situated right next to Southern California.