The global gambling industry is constantly developing, with some regulated markets from the northern hemisphere seeing considerable growth.

We will see how Latin America plays its part in this. The gambling industry in South American countries still is in its infancy. Still, certain trends and indicators paint a different picture for the future.

We will discuss the current operator revenue and industry size, the existing legislation in the largest markets, and potential developments.

How the Latin American Gambling Industry Looks Like

The worldwide industry is set to grow by 50%, from $60 billion to a staggering $90 billion by 2023. The main pull for its success has appealed to the European and North American markets.

However, things are set to change, as iGaming industry leaders are looking to the LatAm region as a rife and untapped market, given its enormous population and a growing economic power among some populations.

However, the main hurdle stopping investor’s hurry to capitalise is that there is no legal consensus across the continent regarding land-based and iGaming. Some nations have more robust frameworks accommodating industry growth, while some notable ones have literally no gambling legislation.

Latin America is not one unified entity. Each south American nation has taken a specific approach to these activities. Thus, it is worth looking at the context on a nation-by-nation basis.

Gambling in Colombia

Here is the best-case scenario for iGaming industry growth. Colombia, a nation with a population of over 50 million that has the fourth-largest regional economy, was also the first nation in Latin America to introduce iGaming legislation.

The first laws were passed in 2016, with licensing for casino sites and services introduced in 2017. As for market reach, most activities falling under the umbrella term of gambling are available in Colombia.

Horseracing is one strange exception that can only be organised by Coljuegos, the national regulator, or private operators with governmental concessions.

Since legalisation, Colombia also provided some relevant statistics regarding the market potential for iGaming. In 2019, gambling-related activities by a shocking 106% since the previous year. It was an important year, having a turnover of around $798 million, that resulted in a Gross Gaming Revenue of around $81.38.

By 2020, iGaming alone produced a total profit of about $37.983 million. While the resulting GGR stabilised to some extent, it remained a good proof of concept that made some experts see Colombia as the model country  for the future of the Latin American gambling industry.

The Opposite End: Brazil

Brazil is often called the sleeping giant of Latin America, having the largest population and most expansive landmass in South America.

These facts would make the nation a perfect next target for classic gambling and iGaming. However, Brazil lacked a legislative framework for inviting the industry within its bounds. The federal government assigned a commission for developing sports betting regulations in 2016, and it finally passed legislation in 2018.

The Brazilian government ultimately delayed its implementation until 2021. This makes Brazil a very young market. Investors and operators did show an interest already, with over 2000 suggestions from 600 companies.

From the statements for SECAP’s secretary, Gustavo José de Guimarães, the sports betting industry is set to be put in motion sometime during 2022, hopefully before the FIFA World Cup.

Naturally, the timing would be perfect, but given the efforts, the start may be hasty. Nevertheless, the sports betting sector was estimated to return $1.5 billion annually, so the national agencies are interested in starting as soon as possible.

Chile is Also a New and Challenging Market

The Chilean government announced a new bill for iGaming regulations in 2021, extending the potential of land-based venues to provide services online.

However, one hurdle and aspect that left a bad taste in many operators' mouths was a 2020 announcement. Essentially, license renewals in Chile would not depend on satisfying certain requirements but rather on financial valuation, i.e. a tender process. This created a total breakdown of negotiations between foreign casino investors and the government.

However, the latest news indicates that the regulation project is in its final stages, so the two sides must have arrived at a resolution. Thus, Chile may soon join Brazil as the newest Latin American gambling industry market.

Argentina’s Third Way

You can be sure that gambling operators looked into opening business in Latin America's second-largest economy, Argentina.

And the authorities provided them with a way, however, not nationwide. The gaming industry in Argentina is regulated differently, from one province to another.

Albeit regionally restricted, iGaming, both casino gaming and sports betting, has been estimated to bring in $2.4 billion in revenues. Authorities took note of the lucrative aspect of iGaming, announcing increases in the federal tax on iGaming from 2% up to 5%.

However, each province can control iGaming taxation differently. For instance, in Buenos Aires, the province, services are taxed at 10% of the GGR, while in Buenos Aires, the capital, these go up to 25%.

Argentina seems to make a good partner for iGaming, even with considerable taxes in certain areas. More so, it could provide an alternative model of the future of the Latin American gambling industry.

Costa Rica

We have a weird scenario with Costa Rica, a stable and prosperous country in the LatAm region.

Even though several Costa Rican laws prohibit the organisation of games of chance, the government is in tacit acceptance of gambling. However, it is not for its citizens since no such service can accept Costa Rican citizens. However, services are available for foreign players. This fact, combined with lax taxation, made Costa Rica the perfect hub for iGaming operators, with over 450 iGaming companies active within its bounds.

The Dominican Republic: Gambling’s Caribbean Colombia

Moving on from restrictive legislation to more permissive ones, we arrive at the case of the Dominican Republic.

The nation is one of the most permissive, judging by the Caribbean and Latin American gambling industry standards. Apart from fantasy and virtual sports betting, all forms of gaming are legal. The government provides standard operating licenses to iGaming services. As a fun fact, the Dominican Republic has the lowest legal participation age worldwide – 13 years.

The nation developed its gambling industry along with tourism, becoming a hotspot for the two. And the government surely capitalises on it. Apart from the $230000 licenses that come with administrative fees of about $23000, the Dominican government also imposes a 10% turnover tax.

Mexico: The On-Land-Online Connection

Mexico’s Federal Gaming and Raffles Law 1947 regulates almost all gaming activities. Independent poker rooms and fantasy sports are exceptions.

The piece of legislation officially prohibits all games of chance. However, interpretations create the space for effective implementations of gaming services. Hence, since the law’s implementation in 2004, most activities are accessible within Mexico, with 300 brick-and-mortar casinos functioning, especially in areas adjoined to tourist resorts.

iGaming is a bit different. Since neither the internet nor iGaming existed in 1947, these are not explicitly regulated by the main piece of legislation. However, casino and betting sites are operational in the country, but with some considerations.

Essentially, online services must have a partnership with land-based venues to function. Attempts to directly regulate iGaming have existed since 2014, but these have often been stalled. Considering the relative accessibility of iGaming, there is hardly any reason for further developments in this direction.

Hard Stance Nations: Ecuador, Guyana & Venezuela

The three hard stance countries have little to no participation in the Latin American gambling industry, each with different reasons and contexts.

Ecuador

The government of Ecuador forcefully closed all casino, betting, and bingo venues in 2012, with online iGaming services being similarly prohibited.

In an unexpected turn of events, the main protests against the prohibitions came from the Association of Former Casino Workers.

The grassroots workers’ movement has been agitating since 2019 for the reopening of services and venues and participation in the Latin American gambling industry.

Guyana

Following the passing of the Gambling Prevention Act, most activities of this kind have been prohibited in Guyana.

Lotteries and pool betting are the only notable exceptions specified by the current legislation. Like Costa Rica, (only two) casino venues still operate within the nation's bounds. Still, they do so within hotels and only accept guests as customers.

As for iGaming, while not explicitly mentioned for prohibition, the government still revoked all remote service licenses.

Venezuela

The Venezuelan government banned all gaming venues across the country in 2011. Its relationship with iGaming is more complicated.

There is no clear legislation addressing the state of iGaming in Venezuela. This fact produced an opportunity that was soon used – most surprisingly, by the government itself.

In 2019, an online crypto casino opened in a governmental effort to boost the value of the national Petro cryptocurrency.

Other Cases of Lawful Gambling

The vast majority of LatAm region nations have legalised games of chance, thus, strengthening the Latin American gambling industry.

Nicaragua

Both physical venues, casino, and betting sites have been legally accessible and regulated within Nicaragua since 2001.

The main overseers of the industry are the Control Board of Casinos and Gaming Venues and the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit. With all considerations aside, the nation did not prove fertile for a thriving industry, with its breadth being minimal, to date.

Panama

Most hard stance nations outlaw betting and casino play while permitting forms of lottery, amateur events, and pool betting. Panama acts in reverse.

The nation has licensing authorities and allows a slew of casino activities and sports or auto race betting, online and offline. However, lottery draws, horserace betting, and other similar events are prohibited or stand at the licensor's discretion.

Peru

Peru also follows the example of Panama in permitting casino and slot gaming while outlawing lotteries.

The nation is considerably stricter, with sports betting also being illegal. As of now, online services remain unaddressed, albeit offering prohibited activities. iGaming regulations are more of a patchwork rather than a cohesive set of laws.

For instance, officially recognised online operators offer supposedly outlawed services, such as Intralot Peru, Corporacion Galena, and the Moterrico racetrack. Also, online services are supposed to pay a 20% tax for their GGR. However, it is unclear how the government is supposed to enforce taxation.

Paraguay

Paraguay permits and effectively taxes gambling activities, making it one of the few clearcut cases in the Latin American gambling industry examples.

The singular sports betting service alone brings around $4 million from taxation. 2016 also came with some legislative updates that addressed iGaming, while 2021 brought new related taxes.

Uruguay

Uruguay is another situation where legality does not equate to legal cohesiveness. Online and offline operators can activate within the country. Still, they earn the right on a case-by-case basis, depending on individual concession contracts.

The offline market, at least, is under governmental monopoly and tight control. Similarly, since 2018, the Direccion Nacional de Loterias y Quinielas is the only recognised entity that can legally provide iGaming activities. There is one caveat, but it follows the Costa Rican rule. Online operators can set shop in the Montevideo Free Trade Zone, but only insofar as they provide services to anyone but Uruguayan citizens.

Looking Towards the Future

We can finally draw educated conclusions regarding the Latin American gambling industry and legislation.

The largest economies on the continent have taken a visible interest in gaming services and either have or are looking to create some cohesive legislation.

However, we need to repeat that Latin America is not one homogenous block. Each nation comes with a specific context and must accommodate gambling rather than simply adopting it.

Nevertheless, with a mobile penetration rate estimated to reach 73% by 2025, iGaming is certainly going to make an appearance and may be here to stay. The region still lags behind other markets, but the Latin American gambling industry is one of operators' biggest areas of interest.