Casinos Heading for Mexico Tourist Destinations Heading to sunny beaches or tourist Meccas in Mexico? With a little luck (pun intended, of course) you could soon be enjoying the exciting nightlife of casino action in addition to the extraordinary amenities already provided to patrons of such destinations as Acapulco, Baja California and Riviera Maya. While these popular tourist draws certainly have much to offer already, the appearance of casinos is being considered as part of the country’s proposed overhaul of gaming legislation. This is under consideration in a move to bring an increase in tourism and boost revenue. What’s Under Consideration? Mexico’s Interior Ministry reports that today there are nearly 300 gaming locations in all of Mexico, although many are small, with a limited number of slots or other games. With changes being considered to allow expansion into tourist resort areas, this number could grow to conceivably double or triple that number, creating resort-style casino complexes that combine gaming action and entertainment with typical tourist amenities. Making this a legal possibility will require an overhaul of Mexico’s longstanding approach to gaming laws and controls, which date back nearly 70 years. Mexico’s House of Representatives has already passed legislation known as the Federal Betting and Raffles Law, which will be considered by their Senate in the near future. This bill is the vehicle that will enable expansion of casinos in the resort community, with additional amendments. Included in the bill are not only provisions to permit resort properties to include expanding casino activity, but also language to crack down on illegal gambling operations in Mexico. Due to weak enforcement of gaming laws in the country, the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers estimates that 15% of existing gaming equipment is operated without an approved license. Getting Prepared As with any legislation, approval and implementation will likely take at least six months to complete. Specific language will need to be negotiated and approved prior to passage, making exact details unspecific, at this time. To be sure, resort operators will be chomping at the bit to be prepared for progress as soon as the details are known. Once the general direction of the legislation is known, resort operators will no doubt begin upgrades and construction projects to be prepared for gaming facilities. Potential suitors for permits and locations may very well already be jockeying for their position in line. Past vs. Future Until recently, all slot machines have been banned in Mexico, as the result of a decree from Mexico President Peña Nieto. In the past, small operators would install slot machines in such locations as pharmacies, groceries, and other small businesses. Under the regulations in effect at that time, small businesses could operate the machines, through leases from licensed operators. This led to unregulated operations proliferating throughout the country, with the government losing total control of these scattered machines, forcing action to correct the problem. At that point, the machines were prohibited, and raids were commonly conducted to confiscate the devices, often resulting in closing of businesses and arrests of employees. All the more reason to ban the machines was a 2011 firebombing at the Casino Royale in the city of Monterrey, which caused 52 deaths. This incident was later linked to organized crime. The impact of the ban was felt almost immediately by casino operators, as slot machines at the time accounted for approximately three-quarters of casino revenue, generating more return than all other casino offerings combined. There is now a smattering of casinos in Mexico offering slot machines, mainly located near the US/Mexico border in cities such as Ciudad Juarez, which now has multiple casinos. These attract Americans from Texas, who naturally find it much easier to cross the border than make the longer trip to Las Vegas. Certainly the variety of slot machines available to gamers does not even come close to Vegas-class operations. They typically number fewer than 100 units, compared to a Las Vegas casino’s tally at the 1,000+ machine level and considerably more. The new proposed legislation under consideration attempts to streamline the process of obtaining permits for casino operations. This will go a long way toward facilitating the expansion of casinos into popular tourist areas. While there are casinos today in some tourist destinations, they do not currently compare to those located in US locations, due to Mexico’s existing regulations. Most offer limited table games and betting on dog and horse races. Coming Soon? Don’t pack your bags and head for Vegas-style casino action just yet. Based on the current legislation being considered (not to mention the revenue to be gained), there is reason to expect you will soon be able to bask on the beach in Acapulco during the day, then hit the casino for high-energy action in the evening.