Legal. Gambling is illegal in Latin America, as it is in many other countries, including the USA. However, running an online gambling website is very difficult without an officially licensed government entity, and even having one is critical when it comes to maintaining a legally operational online gambling website. In the case of LatAm, this is not an issue at all, as there is no such regulating body, despite previous threats from neighboring South American countries which have threatened to take control of any internet gambling website operating from their territories. As such, the presence of LatAm casinos in the region is entirely voluntary, and none of these sites has ever faced any legal repercussions.
LatAm operators have faced some legal issues, though. The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit against one such operator, claiming that he was facilitating online gambling without following the law. The complaint alleged that the operator knowingly communicated with gaming sites outside of his area of operation, which is a federal offense. In a related case, the Gaming Control Division of the state of Mississippi fined another LatAm operator for aiding and abet gambling in violation of the ban enacted by the state in 2005. The state Gaming Commission closed that case due to lack of evidence and a lack of jurisdiction.
Despite these legal issues, online gambling operators in Latin America are able to operate with near impunity thanks to corrupt officials and a lack of interest by local courts and prosecution. As in the US, corruption in Latin America is widespread, especially in the health care, construction, petroleum, and telecommunications industries. In Brazil, where the largest number of licensed gambling venues exists, bingo (and other card games) is one of the most popular games. As in the US, online gambling is largely unregulated, allowing corruption to thrive. In addition to low-priced or free cards, card rooms commonly offer cash advances and credit facility.
Recently, I had an opportunity to work in the Gaming Ministry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is one of the world’s most populous cities. I spent two years traveling throughout the country, speaking with municipal government, bingo organizations, and local law enforcement officers. I also interviewed dozens of lawyers, inspectors, and entrepreneurs. In my research, I discovered that the only two Latin American countries that explicitly legalized online gambling in their jurisdictions were Argentina and Brazil. Despite promises of new technology by many of the countries’ leaders, those promises still remain unfulfilled.
Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico are currently the only Latin American countries that have legalized online gambling, but each has a very weak regulatory structure. Brazil has no statutory regulation of its casinos, allowing them to attract a huge population from rural areas that are ineligible for cards. The same is true of Uruguay, which despite boasting one of the world’s largest cardrooms, continues to enforce only very weak consumer protection and financial regulations against Internet gambling. For these reasons, I recommend staying away from any casino that you come across online, especially if you are from any of these Latin American countries.
Recently, I did some further research on the regulation of online gambling in Latin America, and I found that none of the countries that legalized online gambling have developed meaningful and enforceable consumer protection or effective fiscal policies that would protect consumers from unscrupulous business operators. They do, however, have some laws that restrict the amount of capital that can be transferred from one player to another, but the lack of clear direction means that this law does not apply to transfers from abroad. As long as the bingo operator is licensed to operate in the jurisdiction where you live, then you should be fine. However, if you’re a gambler expecting to wager large amounts in a remote country, it’s very important that you investigate your online gambling options through a reliable and well-established jurisdiction.