Betting in Nicaragua

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As the largest of all Central American nations in terms of geography but with only about 5.9 million residents, the Republic of Nicaragua is much less densely populated than its neighbours, Honduras and Costa Rica. Much of the country is mountainous or swampy, causing a high concentration of population in the capital city of Managua and half a dozen other big urban centers. The national language is Spanish and the local currency is the Cordoba.

From the landing of Columbus in 1502 till independence was declared in 1821, Nicaragua was a colony, first of Spain and later Mexico. Political crises characterised much of its history until 1960, when the country became a founder member of the Central American Common Market. In the 1970s, a civil war ensued, which brought the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) or so-called “Sandinistas” to power in 1979.

Under Sandinista rule, all forms of gambling were made illegal. This ban continued even after the Sandinista government was ousted in 1990. Then, relaxation of the laws began in 1996 with the introduction of the first national lottery—Loteria Nacional de Nicaragua. Assisted by Oberthur Gaming Techologies, instant scratch-off lotto tickets were issued and immediately became a hit with the local populace.

Sensing a new tolerance toward gambling activities, several casinos began opening up at a rate of about one per year. Today, Nicaragua is home to a dozen venues featuring slots machines and table games, including seven properties in the capital. The largest of all is the Pharaohs Casino, one of three venues located in Masaya, with 160 slot machines and 30 table games, including Blackjack, Baccarat, Roulette and Caribbean Stud Poker.

Oddly enough, much of this growth has occurred under the governance of the FSLN and President Daniel Ortega, who returned to power in 2006 through the peaceful process of representative democracy. In fact, it was the FSLN that at long last made history by leading the National Assembly to pass the Casino and Gaming Room Control Act of 2011, creating licensed and regulated markets for Nicaraguan gambling establishments.

Under the new law, the Department of Casinos and Gaming Venues was formed under the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism (Intur). It has the authority to grants applications for gaming licenses and collect fees and taxes. It also enforces the Casino Act’s regulations, such as children under 18 years being forbidden to enter a gambling establishment.

As a result of this legislation, Nicaragua can now offer a variety of different forms of gambling, from casinos and racinos to poker venues. One area still restricted, however, is sports betting. Most Nicaraguan bookmakers are still underground illegal operations. Only sportsbooks that are attached to licensed casinos, such as the one at the sports bar of the Zona Pharaoh Casino in Managua, are officially permitted to take wagers.

The Nicaraguan government has yet to take a position on online wagering, and there are no Internet casinos or sportsbooks operating inside the country. The lack of betting opportunities domestically on land and online has caused many local players to look offshore for wagering. Among some 462 foreign web sites accept bets from Nicaragua, fully 90 have services in the Spanish language. They include Bet365, UniBet, Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Gamebookers and 888 Sport, to name just a few.

Additionally, neighboring Costa Rica is happily hosting dot-coms that specifically target Nicaraguan players for online bingo, poker, casino games and sports betting. There are no fewer than 45 virtual gaming sites in Costa Rica that support Spanish and also accept play from Nicaragua. Clearly, the reforms in Nicaragua must continue quickly if the country is to remain competitive and retain a fair share of its burgeoning market for betting.