Betting in Mexico

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Unlike most Latin America countries, Mexico has not fully embraced gambling, but it has taken a more liberal stance toward betting than its neighbor to the north—the United States. Despite the influence of the Catholic Church, which is against almost all forms of wagering, the country’s history and politics have evolved to allow a wide variety of betting activities, from cockfighting to craps and more.

Records show that gambling in Mexico predates Aztec civilization. French style casinos appeared here in the 19th century and it was only the rise of a reformist government under President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1935 that closed them down, along with all sorts of other types of betting.

In 1947, a federal law was passed banning most forms of gambling. Some notable exceptions were sports wagering, dominoes, dice and pool. Nevertheless, illegal gambling survived throughout the country, leading many politicians to question whether regulation might not be a better path than prohibition.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, successive presidents vowed to make gambling fully legal in Mexico. In 1989, the central government reached a minor breakthrough and granted a Tijuana-based company permission to offer sports betting. It was not until 2001, however, that a serious attempt was made under President Vicente Fox to truly open the country to wagering activities.

In 2004, the operation of certain numbers-based games was approved by the Secretaría de Gobernación, the government department that oversees gambling and raffles. Soon licenses were being issued under the “Regulation to the Federal Gaming and Raffle Law.”

By 2005, the first “racinos” were permitted to offer pari-mutuel betting plus casino-style slot games. After that, the flood gates opened, even if all types of gambling were not officially authorized, such as blackjack and roulette.

Today, gamblers in Mexico enjoy betting on horseracing, dog racing, bullfighting, cockfighting, Jai Alai, sports, bingo, lotteries and scratchcards. Video-style gaming machines have been introduced, too. The legal age for both gambling and drinking is 18 years old.

Within the country’s 31 states and the Distrito Federal of the capitol, some 40 major gambling venues are now operating, including 37 casinos and slot clubs, thoroughbred racecourses in Mexico City and Juarez, plus a greyhound track in Tijuana. The biggest operator of gaming facilities is PlayCity, which has been dubbed “casino lite” by the press. Only bingo, sports betting and machine gaming are offered.

Despite lingering questions regarding legalities, poker is now being made available in some casinos, including such popular games as Caribbean Stud and Texas Hold’em. One of the newest casinos to open is the Playboy Club Cancun. It features a 12,900-square-foot gaming area, installed in anticipation of further easing of gambling restrictions.

Although sports betting has been legal in Mexico for some time, only recently has the Mexican bookmaking industry become regulated and organized. Wagers can be made on various national and international sporting events. The nation’s leading operator of betting shops is Caliente, with some 50 locations around the country plus bets accepted via telephone and over the Internet.

Alternatives to the Caliente online service abound. Mexican citizens are free to gamble at offshore gaming web sites. At present, there are 476 sports betting sites that accept play from Mexico, of which 99 offer Spanish-language support. Among the latter are Unibet, Ladbrokes, Bet365, Paddy Power, William Hill, Gamebookers, Expekt, BetFred and Party Bets, to name just a few of the majors.