Casino Owners Protest Against Online Gambling Licensing in Buenos Aires

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Owners of floating casinos in the City of Buenos Aires have protested a prohibition on land-based gambling venues to apply for an online license. The owners have received assistance from a federal judge to block the licensing process.

City of Buenos Aires Licensing: A Small Pothole on the Road to Progress

Online gambling in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been in the making since 2018, when former city governor, María Eugenia Vidal, approved legislation that would have made it possible for various gambling activities, including sports betting, casinos, and even poker rooms, to take place online.

However, Vidal was defeat at the poll box by Axel Kicillof, an independent candidate who previously served as the country’s Minister of Economy from 2013 to 2015. Yet, political opposition has not been the nascent industry’s only problem, writes local newspaper Clarín.

As per Vidal’s plan, regulating online gambling in the City of Buenos Aires, with no specific plans to roll the activity outside of the city (although an independent licensing process for the namesake province is ongoing), is designed to help combat the black market and boost the social purse.

However, land-based operators have been able to put these plans on hold, after a judge has ordered the Loteria de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (LOTBA), the regulator charged with registering new gambling operators, to not accept and sign deals with companies looking to set their online shop in the city.

Companies have been applying since 2019, when the process became available. In February 2020, LOTBA released a report outlining plans to introduce online sports betting and casino operations in Buenos Aires, as an autonomous bastion of online gaming in the country.

At the time, LOTBA explained that it is preparing to welcome a variety of products, including sports betting, slots, roulette, black jack, poker, punto blanco and different lottery games, virtual sports, and more.

The Pushback – Not Uncalled For

While some media outlets have suggested that the attack on online gambling was intentional and followed a trend whereby land-based operators were unhappy with the arrival of arguably more flexible online operators, this is not entirely true.

The pushback has more to do with LOTBA’s anti-monopoly rules in place, which prohibit owners of land-based activities to expand online lest they corner the market. This has effectively blocked the “floating casinos” of Puerto Madero to seek a way out by petitioning a judge to stop the licensing process.

Two plaintiffs have been named by the newspaper, and specifically Federico de Achával and Ricardo Benedicto. The decision not to allow them to the online market has been another significant hit for the floating casinos of Puerto Madero, as they had to shut down in February, due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving them without any revenue.

Owners have been worried that now that they cannot apply for an online license, they risk losing all customers, putting some 500 jobs at risk. Despite an initial rejection, federal judge Enrique Lavié Pico has sided with the owners.

The same judge, back in 2017, also issued a precautionary measure, exempting bingo companies from income tax. Despite this setback, licensing process in the City of Buenos Aires should continue as normal and licenses should be issues soon, a GamblingNews source suggested, but we haven’t been able to confirm the story.

Meanwhile, the Buenos Aires Province is also trying to license the online gambling market, not just in the City of Buenos Aires, but rather in the entire province, which is a much larger market, and arguably a more interesting one to investors.

The last update on gambling in the province came in March, 2020 when Omar Galdurralde stepped in as the new president of the Provincial Institute of Lottery and Casinos (IPLyC) of Buenos Aires.

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