Gambling Laws in South America

South America’s gambling laws, like the continent’s diverse collection of countries and cultures, is a mixed bag.

More than 410 million people call South America home, and by applying the standard demographic rate which holds that roughly 75% of any population is over the age of 18, this massive area is home to over 307 million eligible gamblers.

Even so, with about half of South America’s residents living in Brazil – a nation which has historically been quite hostile to all forms of gambling – many prospective players find themselves living on the wrong side of various borders. Add in the fact that every South American country is really a patchwork of different states and districts – each with their own provisions and policies regarding one of the world’s oldest “vices” – and coming to any conclusions about gambling laws in South American can be a daunting task indeed.

Of course, every culture on the planet engages in one form of gambling or another. Everything from wagering on the outcome of athletic contests and animal races, to competing in card and dice games played against house dealers, or taking part in cooperative contests like poker and dominoes with money on the line constitutes gambling. And for the most part, these activities play out far from the prying eyes of the authorities, with communities tacitly allowing games of chance and skill to take place.

South America is no different, and every town and city on the continent is home to gambling in some way, shape, or form. When it comes to modern gambling legislation, however, South American nations are notoriously behind the times, applying outdated standards which were created under the previous era of colonial rule – or post-colonial power grabbing.

In the era of online gambling, which has expanded the industry’s scope and reach well beyond brick and mortar casinos, these obsolete laws further muddy the proverbial waters. Citizens of South American countries have access to the internet and smartphones in the palm of their hands, making access to casino gaming, sports betting, lottery, and even bingo readily available – despite local laws prohibiting such pursuits.

Accordingly, most governments in South America have accelerated their efforts to legalize, while regulating and taxing, the increasingly popular gambling industry. Conversely, some countries have responding to the proliferation of online gambling like the American government did in 2006, passing overarching bills to ban the platforms from public use.

A few countries, including Argentina and Uruguay, are leading the movement to adopt common sense gambling laws – both as a boon to the local economy, and to curtail the consequences of illicit gambling. On the other hand, countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are still clinging to edicts issued nearly 100 years ago, usually by religiously motivated rulers, and as a result their national gambling industries remain in shambles. Finally, nations like Brazil are attempting to bridge the gap, with progressive lawmakers attempting to modernize the law, while conservative opponents reject change and keep the old ways intact.

The gambling laws in South America are multifaceted and complex across its 12 sovereign nations, but the guide below breaks down each country’s historical stance on the subject, along with the most current legislation on the docket.

Argentina – Population: 41.5 Million

With no federal laws governing casino gambling, the industry is regulated by the 23 individual provinces which make up Argentina.

Thankfully for residents, Argentina has been historically friendly to almost all forms of gambling, from horse racing to local lotteries, and of course, casinos.

Per a 2016 report published by industry research firm Clarion Gaming, titled South America: A Regulatory Overview, Argentina was home to 80 slat parlors, racetracks, and casinos in 2007. Today, that number has nearly doubled to 157.

You can legally gamble on casino games and horseracing in most provinces throughout Argentina, and the overall outlook on gambling across the country is enthusiastic to say the least. The capital city of Buenos Aires is home to the largest casino in all of South America, the Casino de Trilenium, which is one of only three casinos in the entire city.

That’s because casinos are technically banned in Buenos Aires, which is actually an autonomous city that operates under its own government. Even so, two “floating” casinos are permanently moored in the city’s harbor, while the Casino de Trilenium (also known as Casino de Tigre) was granted an exemption as a “racino” – or casino connected to a horseracing track.

Boasting 180,000 square feet of gaming floor, the Casino de Trilenium is housed within a glittering glass tower that wouldn’t be out of place on the Las Vegas Strip. Inside, players partake in 1,975 table games and slot machines, making the venue one of the hottest destinations for gamblers anywhere on the continent.

Aside from the world famous Palermo Racetrack in the city of Buenos Aires, which was opened in 1876, the province of the same name is home to four more horseracing venues. The two most prominent are San Isidro and La Plata, while the towns of Tandil, Azul, and Dolores are home to the others.

Sports betting lags behind in Argentina, with little to nothing in the way of brick and mortar establishments, so punters are forced to make due with offshore sportsbooks. Of course, these fall under the “less than legal” category, much like they do in the U.S., so this segment of the gambling industry isn’t as popular as it has become in places like Europe and Australia.

A domestic online sportsbook known as Formoapuesta launched in 2006, generating USD$100,000 in wagers in its first month, before licensing issues led to its closure a short time later.

Bingo is a big business across Argentina, with individual provinces allowing for massive bingo halls that double as slot parlors. The Spanish company Codere operates over 5,200 slot machines in bingo parlors, making it the industry leader.

Overall, Argentina is probably the best place for South Americans to live, and gambling amenable travelers to visit. The combination of lax local laws, a nationwide culture which celebrates gambling rather than demonizing it, and dozens of casinos and racinos to choose from, Argentina sets the standard for gambling laws in South America.

Bolivia – Population: 10.67 Million

Officially known as the “Plurinational State of Bolivia,” this former Spanish colony declared its independence in 1825, and achieved it 22 years later.

Bolivia is named for 19th century revolutionary Simon Bolivar, who waged wars of independence that eventually led to the recognition of countries like his homeland of Venezuela, along with Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama, and of course, Bolivia, as sovereign nations free from Spanish rule.

For a full century afterward, Bolivia adopted a relaxed attitude towards almost all forms of gambling, and betting on activities races, bingo, lottery, and dominoes were all regularly enjoyed by the populace. But during the 1930s, with the country in the midst of a shift to socialist government that was intent on nationalizing all forms of industry, the notoriously tough to regulate gambling world was officially banned.

The 1938 gambling ban remained in place through 1996, effectively turning Bolivia into a gambling free zone in the legal sense. But that year saw the government offer concessions, due to the rampant underground bingo scene, and 200 bingo parlor licenses were granted.

Casinos were legalized in 2002, resulting in an influx of international investment in the nascent industry, but heavy taxes imposed on both operators and players caused participation levels to decline. In Bolivia, casinos are taxed 30 percent of their gross income, with the federal government entitled to 70 percent of the overall tax contribution generated by casinos. Players, meanwhile, are taxed at a 15 percent rate immediately upon purchasing chips.

In 2007, the Authority of Taxation and Social Control Over Gaming Board was instituted to take control over Bolivia’s emerging gambling industry. This Board was created to take over for the scandal ridden National Lottery Commission of Charity and Health, which had turned the casino industry into a breeding ground for corruption over the prior period.

Currently, the Board has issued gambling licenses to only two companies – Curucusí – Games S.R.L and Max Entertainment S.R.L – meaning any other nonaffiliated gambling establishment is illegal under Bolivian law.

The lottery is another popular form of gambling in Bolivia, and contributions from lottery programs have been used to fund health sector services since 1871.

Sports betting is practically nonexistent in Bolivia, and although it’s technically legal, punters will have a hard time finding sportsbooks in the country.

Bingo used to be a thriving industry here, with the Bingo Bahiti in Santa Cruz standing as the nation’s largest bingo hall until 2011. That year, Bolivia’s president ordered the hall to close in light of alleged tax violations, and the company’s executives were jailed. Since then, bingo halls have been shuttered throughout the country, along with their associated slot parlors.

Overall, considering the heavy tax burden placed on players in Bolivia, you’d be better served seeking out alternative accommodations during your next gambling excursion in South America.

Chile – Population: 17.62 Million

Known primarily for its peculiar elongated shape and rugged coastal mountain ranges, Chile is also home to one of the more progressive outlooks on gambling among South American nations.

Prior to 2005, the country was home to seven casinos altogether, which collectively formed a productive industry valued at USD$85 million per year. Although casinos were thriving in Chile for several decades prior, in 1999 the administration of president Eduardo Frei proposed a sweeping legislative reform package designed to modernize regulation and fairly distribute tax revenue.

It would take six years for Frei’s legislation to gain passage, but when they did, Act # 19.995 called for the creation of an independent gaming commission known as the Superintendencia de Casinos de Juego (SCJ). The SCJ then issued 18 new licenses and invited casino operators to apply, thus launching the revamped Chilean gambling landscape which exists today.

The 15 year licenses were awarded only to enterprises which could prove that their casinos would stimulate tourism to nearby areas. Nowadays, visitors have dozens of glittering new casino resorts to choose from, located in cities like Valparaiso, Arica, Viña del Mar, and the capital of Santiago.

In each case, the casino venues built or renovated after the 2005 law was passed are top of the line establishments, complete with five star hotels, conference centers, eateries, shopping malls, and other amenities.

In January of 2015, the SCJ released figures which showed that gross gaming income had climbed to over USD$38 million across the 16 casinos licensed by the 2005 law. Supplementary studies by the SCJ revealed that annual revenue from casino gaming increased by 14.3 percent over 2014.

In addition, a successful political effort by government leaders representing the towns and cities where the seven previously existing casinos are located was launched in 2015. These parties sought to ensure that their own venues would be able to share in the bounty created by the 2005 licensing procedures. In August of 2015 Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, agreed to sign license extensions into law for the seven municipal casinos, which will last until December of 2017.

One legal sticking point for Chile’s gambling industry is the proliferation of illicit slot parlors. Under the 2005 law, slot machines are not permitted to be played anywhere outside of a licensed casino, but many individuals skirt the law. Government estimates peg the number of illegal machines in slot parlors at 150,000, while another 50,000 are believed to be played in convenience stores, hotels, and other establishments.

Horseracing is a popular pastime in Chile, and of the country’s eight racetracks, the two largest – the HipÓdromo Chile and the Club Hípico de Santiago – can be found in the capital.

Sports betting isn’t nearly as widespread, as the law doesn’t allow for sportsbooks of any type. Of course, online sports betting through offshore services is popular among the Chilean people, but those wagers are technically illegal as of now.

Bingo is a rising game in Chile, with licensed bingo halls connected to casinos offering more than 2,000 seats on a daily basis.

The 2005 law explicitly forbids online gambling of any sort, but Chilean citizens don’t seem to mind, as they wager an estimated USD$12 million each year through offshore providers. At the moment, Chile resembles American states like California in terms of online gambling laws. Players there routinely access offshore online casinos to place wagers and enjoy games, which has not escaped the notice of government officials, many of whom are keen on keeping that money “in house” for taxation purposes. But despite momentum to pass online gambling legislation, Chile – like California – has yet to overcome the logistical hurdles needed to pass concrete laws on the subject.

Overall, Chile is home to a thriving and modernized casino gambling industry, thanks to the reforms ensured by the 2005 gaming act. Players there are free to enjoy their favorite games without fear of intrusion, operators enjoy the purview to provide games and services of their choosing, and the government is able to fund valuable services by taxing the industry.

Colombia – Population: 47.12 Million

p>The problems that plagued Colombia during the latter half of the 20th century have been well documented, but the country is poised to rebound from its status as the “Cocaine Capital” of the world as the 21st century continues.

With headway being made to end decades of revolutionary conflict between armed militia groups like FARC, Colombia is finally beginning to emerge from the shadow of Pablo Escobar and his infamous escapades.

Part of that emergence stems from Law 643, a 2001 provision which sought to increase regulation of the gambling industry. Colombians are famously enthusiastic about gambling, and studies have shown that 61 percent of the adult population there regularly places wagers of one kind or another. Before 2001, however, gambling was almost entirely supervised by underworld figures, including the same paramilitary organizations which have plagued the Colombian people for generations.

It was only 10 years earlier, in 1991 that the Colombian government restructured under a new Constitution, so Law 643 was aimed at organizing the scattered and unsupervised collection of casinos, bingo halls, and slot parlors doing business there. The new rules proved to be quite successful, and under the guidance of its health ministry the Empresa Territorial Para la Salud (ETESA), Columbia saw gambling based tax revenue increase by more than 500 percent.

By 2008, however, illicit gambling was still rampant. Government estimated tabbed the number of illegal bets made in Colombia at 20 percent of the overall activity, while 20,000 of the country’s 65,000 slot machines were unlicensed. Incensed at the tax revenues being drained from Colombia’s economy, which was slowly nursing itself back to health, then president Álvaro Uribe expanded the regulatory authority of ETESA.

By 2009 ETESA had issued 10 new gaming licenses, extended the operations of nine more venues, and renewed 22 existing contracts related to gambling enterprises. Soon enough, Colombia was rivaled by only Argentina in terms of South American casino presence. Cities like Cartagena, San Andrés, and the capital of Bogotá are all home to multiple casino establishments.

Unfortunately, then president Uribe was forced to disband ETESA following a series of corruption scandals in 2012, but the agency was replaced by a new gaming board known as Coljuegos. The newly formed Coljuegos board immediately set to work dismantling illicit gambling rings, including the proliferate slot parlors that sprung up in neighborhoods all across the country.

Thanks to the diligent work of Coljuegos, today the Colombian government estimates that over 3,200 slot parlors, bingo halls, and full-fledged casinos can be found there. A total of 384 licensed operators are responsible for 83,558 individual slot machines. The slots are by far the most popular game for Colombians, who enjoy the “one armed bandits” more than 9 times as often as any other alternative. All slot machines in Colombia must be connected to a central government server as a way of ensuring game integrity.

At one point during the industry’s peak, horseracing created 40,000 jobs for Colombians, but a combination of changing tastes and higher taxes has led to the closing of many racetracks there. Government reforms premised on stimulating the horseracing sector have made a positive impact in recent years though.

In 2013 a domestic firm called Corredor Empresarial S.A. managed to beat out global powerhouse International Game Technology (IGT) in a bidding process to operate Coljuegos’ new pari mutuel sports betting platform. At this time, wagers in Colombia can only be placed on local football matches, but that restriction is expected to end sometime in the near future as government officials recognize the tax benefits of an open system.

Overall, Colombia has persevered through the “bad old days” to create an example for fellow South American nations to follow in terms of gambling legislation. The country is home to more casinos and gambling venues than anywhere else on the continent except for Argentina, so gamblers should have no problem finding their favorite games here.

Ecuador – Population: 15.74 Million

When Rafael Correa, the left wing president of Ecuador, announced his government’s intention to ban casino gambling, the small coastal nation was home to 55 casinos and bingo halls. These establishments had flourished in Ecuador for more than a decade prior, generating much needed tax revenue and employment positions.

The nationwide law regarding casinos was quite unique, and clearly crafted to turn the gambling industry into an engine for tourism. According to the federal standard,

“An Ecuadoran casino must offer at least four different forms of table game within a five star hotel, while three and four star hotels were mandated to spread two or three varieties of table game. That successful model was altered by Correa in 2008, one year after he came to power, as he authorized the Regulation of Casinos in the Tourism Law.”

This new rule limited any future casino operations to be housed in five star hotels only, of which there were just 32 in all of Ecuador.

By the time Correa proposed his all out casino ban three years later, it was clear where his administration stood on the matter. The casino industry fought back, of course, pointing to the long held property rights enshrined in Ecuador’s Constitution, but Correa falsely claimed that casinos had become a hotbed of illicit drug use, money laundering, and other forms of underworld activity.

On May 7th, 2011, after heated public debate, the referendum on Ecuadoran casino gambling finally took place. Four million voters turned out to support Correa’s ban, which was victorious with 47.7 percent of the total tally. Initially, the industry was to receive a two year grace period to facilitate closures and terminate operations, but Correa pushed the measure through early.

It went into effect in March of 2012, forcing thousands of casino employees to lose their jobs, and the national government to part ways with USD$20 million in annual tax revenue.

Sports betting and horse racing aren’t offered in Ecuador on a legal level, and the country’s national lottery program pales in comparison to its regional neighbors.

Overall, Ecuador is one of the more hostile countries in terms of opposition to casino gambling. Correa’s increasingly authoritarian style of governance, consolidation of power, and repeated reelection doesn’t bode well for gambling industry reform there anytime soon

Guyana – Population: 799,613

The tiny nation of Guyana, located on the northeastern coast of the continent near the Caribbean Sea, has historically been friendly to casino gambling.

The law of the land is known as the Gambling Prevention Act of 1902, which has been amended several times over the last century, including the most recent revision in 2007.

Befitting the country’s small stature, Guyana is home to just one casino – the Princess Hotel & Casino in the capital city of Georgetown. This venue, which opened in 2010 to great fanfare, is home to the usual collection of casino games – from blackjack and baccarat to roulette and slot machines. The Princess Hotel & Casino employs 140 Guyanese citizens and offers over 300 slot machines.

Under the 2007 Amendment to the Gambling Act, Guyanese citizens are actually not allowed to gamble in the country’s lone casino. Fortunately for them, a loophole found in the law’s language permits any guest of the Princess to enjoy the casino amenities, so Guyanese residents simply book a room for the nights they’d like to play.

At the time, Guyana’s president Bharrat Jagdeo expressed his displeasure with the law, hoping to institute further amendments to allow citizens full access to the casino without any strings attached. Jagdeo has been succeeded by two presidents over that time, however, and currently, booking a room is the only way Guyanese citizens are permitted to play at the Princess.

Overall, Guyana offers a pleasant Caribbean atmosphere to entice visitors, and the presence of a multimillion dollar Princess casino resort is just a bonus. You won’t have much variety here, but if you happen to make your way to Guyana, you should feel right at home as a gambler.

Paraguay – Population: 6.8 Million

As a landlocked enclave in the center of South America, the Republic of Paraguay gained its independence from Spain in 1811.

Unfortunately, a succession of increasingly isolationist dictatorships stunted Paraguay’s economic and social growth for the next century. A ruinous war that took place between 1864 and 1870 left more than half of the country’s population dead, and one quarter of its land mass forfeited to Argentina and Brazil.

For more than 120 years, Paraguay was ruled by military dictatorships, until the country’s first freely held democratic elections took place in 1993. Paraguay allied with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay to found Mercosur – a regional economic partnership – one year later.

By 1997, the country was keen to spur economic growth, so a federal statute known as Law No. 1016 was passed. Under Law 1016, the ComisiÓn Nacional de Juegos de Azar (CONAJZAR), or the National Commission on Games of Chance, was established to regulate all forms of gambling – including casinos, table games, slot machines, video poker, horse racing, sports betting, lotteries, raffles, bingo, and advertising sweepstakes.

Most of these activities are legal throughout Paraguay’s 17 administrative Departments (similar to states or provinces), but casinos are limited to the capital district of AsunciÓn, along with the six Departments which are home to more than 250,000 residents (Central, San Pedro, Caaguazú, Itapúa, Alto Paraná, and Cordillera).

Despite having nearly two decades to attract international investment from major industry players, like Guyana was able to do with Princess, Paraguay has struggled to develop this segment of its economy. The competitive bidding process put in place by CONAJZAR, designed to attract the industry’s top performers to build five star hotels in Paraguay, has instead created several scandals relating to government corruption.

In 2015 CONAJZAR released figures which showed that tax revenue generated by the gaming industry had grown by 7.9 percent over the prior year, reaching USD$18 million for a five year high. This sum is distributed to the Department of Social Welfare and Assistance (30 percent), the country’s Departmental governments (30 percent), various municipal governments (30 percent), and the federal treasury (10 percent).

In 2014, the Hard Rock International chain of casinos announced plans to build a new venue in the city of Ciudad del Este, which is the capital of the Alto Paraná Department. The casino, which was finally approved for construction on the National Ports Authority building, will contain 500 slot machines and 30 gaming tables, along with 250 rooms, at an estimated cost of USD$70 million.

The capital district of AsunciÓn is home to its own Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, along with Paraguay’s only legal horseracing track – the Jockey Club del Paraguay – and an associated sportsbook. These establishments are the only one of their kind in Paraguay, and represent just 1 percent of the nation’s overall gambling industry.

Bingo was once the most popular gambling game in Paraguay, but it’s appeal to the younger generation has waned in recent years.

As for online gambling, no laws are on the books one way or another, but the federal government and CONAJZAR have announced their intention to pass regulations on internet casinos in the near future.

Overall, Paraguay represents the intrepid spirit found in many South American countries, as the gambling industry is viewed as an economic boon rather than a social drain. Sticking to the capital of AsunciÓn is probably your best bet for variety’s sake, but once the newly completed mega casino in Ciudad del Este is completed, Paraguay should become a regional leader in terms of casino construction.

Peru – Population: 30.38 Million

The relatively large country of Peru is situated along South America’s western coastline, between Ecuador and Chile.

Like many countries on the continent, Peru’s history has been defined by the lasting effects of colonial Spanish rule, which came to an end after more than 300 years in the early 19th century. In the interim, Peru has alternated wildly between various forms of governance, shifting from oligarchy to democracy and back again over the years.

Currently, the representative democracy in place since 2000 has become one of the more advanced in South America, with several peaceful successions of power taking place since the regime of president Alberto Fujimori fell.

Although Fujimori will rightfully be remembered by history as an aspiring despot who consolidated power, dissolved the Congress, and ordered massacres of political opponents, gamblers have him to thank for Peru’s permissive casino laws. In 1994 the country passed a gambling act to update arcane laws regarding activities like slot machine play, lotteries, and bingo.

Unfortunately, Fujimori’s regime was more adept at cracking down on dissent than it was crafting effective statutes, so the gaming act in Peru immediately floundered. By 2004, the newly elected democratic government issued a study which found that 63,000 slot machines were operational in the country – with only 5 percent of that amount registered with regulators.

Similarly, of the nearly 900 slot parlors throughout Peru at the time, only 57 were officially licensed by the government.

Amidst fears that illicit and unregulated gambling had reached epidemic proportions, the government of president Alejandro Toledo issued a decree giving slot parlors a window of time to comply with strict licensing procedures and inspections. This order was roundly ignored, prompting the government to advise police departments to conduct raids on violators, such as those offering slots within school zones or supermarkets. The resulting raids produced more than 500 unlicensed slot machines, which were burned in a public show of force to dissuade further breaches.

As the raids continued throughout 2006, a Peruvian law that previously allowed unlicensed slot parlor owners to seek judicial stays, which extended their unlicensed operation in perpetuity, finally lapsed. This allowed the Toledo administration to pass the “Reordering and Formalization of Casino and Slot Machines Law,” which declared that all slot parlors and casinos must register with the Department of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR) or be shuttered by January 1st, 2007.

In the intervening months, over 600 applications were received, paving the way for a new era of well-regulated slot machine and casino play across Peru. Today, the gambling industry in Peru is a respected source of tax income for a variety of services and institutions – including 30 percent to the local government where the gambling takes place, 30 percent to regional governments 15 percent to sports programs, 15 percent to the public treasury, and 15 percent to the Department of Foreign Trade and Tourism.

The capital city of Lima is now home to four casinos operated by the Chinese company Dream, which also has major casino interests in Chile. Further international investment in the casino industry there is expected over the next decade, as Peru continues to transform its previously dilapidated slot parlors and casinos into a thriving economic engine.

As one might expect, other forms of gambling are now thriving in Peru at this time, thanks to the success of the new laws and regulations.

Horseracing can be done in person at a pair of tracks, the Hipodromo de Porongoche in the city of Arequipa, and the HipÓdromo de Monterrico in Lima. In addition, Peru boasts more than 100 off track betting (OTB) parlors where horseracing wagers can be placed remotely.

Sports betting services are made available through the Intralot company, which launched a betting game in Te Apuesto in 2011.

Bingo used to be a major player in Peru, but today the game is fading away as more modern alternatives rise to the forefront.

As one of the first countries in South America to authorize a regulated online gambling industry, Peru has issued a few licenses to reputable international operators, including the Swedish company Betsson. Players on the Betsson Peru platform can enjoy poker and sports betting on local football leagues. A domestic company called Off Side Gaming created to serve as the first locally owned online gambling website in 2012.

In June 2015 Manuel San Román Benavente – who serves as the Director General of the Peruvian Gaming Control Board – signaled his intention to explore full legalization of all online gambling, including casino games.

Overall, Peru is a paradise for gamblers who wish to combine South America’s amenities and ambience with a truly progressive gambling culture. As the industry continues to embrace the positive effects of regulation, reputable operators continue to emerge and flourish here.

Suriname – Population: 539,276

The gambling situation in Suriname – the smallest country in all of South America – is fluid to say the least.

Officially, casinos have been licensed and legal in Suriname since 1996, with nearly a dozen venues located in the capital city of Paramaribo alone.

Unfortunately, the failure of local government to adequately monitor this emerging industry at the time caused widespread violations of the law. So called “pop up” casinos operated illegally were common throughout Suriname, with residents hoping to elude taxation and cash in on the illicit enterprise.

By 2004 the government announced that casino operators had six months to get their “houses in order,” by applying for or renewing licenses, providing financial disclosures to regulators, and other official means.

Eventually, the government issued a crackdown in casinos throughout the country, seizing property, arresting operators, and generally tightening enforcement across the board.

Today, the casino industry there is still technically in existence, but the majority of venues have been shuttered after the government imposed a 300 percent tax increase on gambling related revenue. The Association of Casino Owners has pledged to close establishments rather than pay the tax, throwing the entire industry into chaos.

Overall, considering the ongoing economic crisis in Suriname, and the recent conversion of a major bank there to Islamic banking practices – which preclude activities like gambling altogether – avid players should probably head elsewhere when considering South American destinations.

Uruguay – Population: 3.4 Million

As the second smallest nation in South America, more than half of Uruguay’s population resides in the capital city of Montevideo.

The country has long been considered a paragon of the continent’s potential, regularly leading all of Latin America in metrics like democratic participation, freedom of the press, middle class growth, overall prosperity, the dearth of government corruption.

As such, it’s no surprise to learn that Uruguay is home to some of the most effective gambling laws in the world.

For the last 100 years, casinos and other forms of communitywide gambling have been casually accepted throughout Uruguay. While other South American countries struggled to reconcile religious or political views with the industry, Uruguayans simply shrugged their collective shoulders and embraced the activity.

The famous Hotel Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco and Spa, located in the capital, has been in business since 1921 – making it one of the oldest casinos in the Americas. With more than a dozen other casinos located throughout the small nation, Uruguay has long been one of the continent’s most welcoming enclaves for gambling enthusiasts.

By the 1950s a socialist military government had assumed state control over Uruguay’s casinos – a shift which typically portends doom for the gambling industry. Somehow, though, the government managed to keep Uruguayan gambling sustainable until 1984, when a democratically elected government and Constitution were enacted.

In 1996 a novel system of shared responsibility was introduced, which is commonly known as the “mixed system.” Under the mixed system, the government started issuing licenses to private businesses, while setting no limits on the number of games that these operators offered. In exchange for allowing owners to run their businesses free of government intrusion, 35 to 45 percent of profits are diverted to state coffers under the mixed system.

This may seem like a money grab by the government, but in reality, the state is still responsible for actual management of the day to day operations.

The companies partnering with Uruguayan officials under the mixed system need only supply equipment, furnish the casino, and supervise logistics like security and promotion.

This alignment between government and business is largely anathema in purely capitalist democracies, but Uruguay’s mixed system has proven to be highly successful. Today, several casinos are thriving across the country, while contributing record profits of USD$100 million in tax revenue, along with wholly state owned casinos, in 2012.

That same year, the Hotel Casino Carrasco was also renovated to the tune of USD$70 million in improvements and enhancements.

With no limits or caps on casino gambling throughout the country, Uruguay is home to a flourishing industry that is among the most modernized in South America.

Per statistics released by the Uruguayan Casino Control Board, gross gaming revenues within the country climbed to USD$212.7 million in 2015 – representing a rise of seven percent over the previous year. Over that same span, slot parlors generated a net income of USD$36.5 million, or 9.5 percent higher than in 2014.

Horseracing has been held, and wagered on, at the El HipÓdromo Nacional de Maroñas racetrack in Montevideo since 1847. The Las Piedras Racetrack opened in 2012, and both venues are supervised by the Codere company, which also has casino facilities on site.

Bingo isn’t widespread in Uruguay, where the game is mainly played in churches and charity drives.

Sportsbooks are a bigger draw here, and Codere operates no less than 27 brick and mortar sports betting providers throughout Uruguay.

Online gambling is on the proverbial burner for government officials, and has been since 2008, but like many American states are discovering, the creation of a regulatory framework for internet based casinos and poker rooms is quite difficult. To date, online gambling in the country is considered a “grey area,” with no laws unequivocally banning or permitting the activity for players or operators.

Overall, the unique aspects of the mixed system may be hard to stomach for ardent capitalists, but when in Rome should be the gambler’s motto here. The mixed system works well in Uruguay, a country with a long history of casino gambling and a proud heritage of accepting players from around the globe.

Venezuela – Population: 30.41 Million

In a stunning reversal of fortune, the once promising gambling sector in Venezuela has mirrored the progress – or lack thereof – witnessed within the rest of the country.

In 1996, gambling was an accepted aspect of Venezuelan culture, and the government there even passed legislation permitting the construction of casinos in five star hotels that held at least 200 rooms. Like other bills passed across South America at the time, Venezuela was intent on attracting the lucrative tourist industry by building a thriving marketplace for casino resorts.

By 1998, however, any hopes of attracting international investment to expand casinos died with the election of former coup leader Hugo Chavez to the presidency. Chavez launched his “Bolivarian Revolution” one year later, abolishing the previous Constitution and consolidating power within the executive branch. Chavez’ reforms proved to be disastrous for Venezuela’s emerging economy, and despite his pledges to assist the country’s burgeoning ranks of poor, the self-styled social savior sunk the country into near ruin.

While he did so, Chavez also set to work dismantling the gambling industry in every respect. His casino closures and unsustainable tax hikes resulted from a cultural aversion to gambling in all forms, and soon enough more than 100,000 jobs were stripped from the Venezuelan economy. Ever a shrewd politician, if not an incompetent leader, Chavez never banned gambling outright –he only made the environment for gambling enterprises unbearable.

By the time local authority over gambling was removed, and handed over to the National Commission of Casinos, Bingo Halls and Slot Machines under his Ministry of Justice, Chavez had succeeded in conquering the gambling industry. All slot parlors and bingo halls were eventually “inspected” and deemed fit for closure by 2011.

Chavez finally ceded power in 2013, but only due to his death after a battle with cancer. Having taken the mantle of Venezuelan leadership, his successor Nicolas Maduro has already made it clear that he has no plans to rollback Chavez’ crackdown on casinos and gambling.

Overall, Venezuela’s status as the “rogue” South American state is well deserved due to the excesses of the Chavez regime during its prime. Although one would hope that the people there eventually pull out of authoritarian rule, casino fans and gamblers are certainly not welcome in Venezuela in any traditional sense.


South America is home to hundreds of millions of potential gamblers; and gambling establishments, both land based and online, have been taking notice. Use this handy guide to learn about the laws in each country in South America. But remember to check your local laws because new laws are being introduced all of the time.