Betting in Venezuela

Formally known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, this South American country sits at the northernmost end of the continent. It faces the Caribbean Sea, where it is bordered by Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. With a population of just over 27 million, Venezuela claims Spanish as its national language, the Bolivar Fuerte as its local currency and Caracas as its capital city.

Conquest by Spain made Venezuela a colony until independence was declared in 1811. The region was part of Gran Colombia until its statehood was recognised in 1845. Political turmoil, dictatorial rule and civil war characterised the 19th century.

Military coups ushered in the 20th century, precluding true democratic elections for nearly six decades. It was not until 1999 that the current constitution came into effect, making Venezuela a federal presidential republic and installing Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías as the 61st and current president.

Despite the socialist nature of the government, coup d'état attempts, a general strike in 2002-03, referendums and political polarization, one aspect of Venezuela that has endured is a love of gambling, which is legal although limited in scope and strictly controlled. From land-based casinos to virtual casinos on the Internet, licensing and regulations are very well organised.

One of the fondest forms of gambling in Venezuela is horseracing. There are four thoroughbred tracks within the country, one each in Bolivar City, Caracas, Santa Rita and Valencia. All pari-mutuel betting is conducted under the auspices of La Superintendencia Nacional de Actividades Hípicas or “Sunahip,” a division of the Tourism Promotion Ministry.

Sunahip is a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities based in France. It is responsible for maintaining statistics of Venezuelan betting and breeding. In 2010, for example, betting turnover reached the equivalent of just over €67.6 million, half of which was returned to bettors. Nearly 2,000 thoroughbred stallions and mares are registered nationwide.

The bricks and mortar casinos in Venezuela have established a solid reputation for fairness over the years. Eight of them are distributed throughout the country, including two in Porlamar and one each in Caracas, La Urbina, Maracaibo, Maturin, Pampatar and Puerto La Cruz. The latter is among the largest, known as the Gran Casino, featuring 16,200 square feet of gaming space, 158 slot machines and 25 table games.

Although many types of sports are popular in Venezuela, especially football (soccer), the only legal sports betting available is at sportsbooks located inside licensed casinos. This has not stopped bookmakers from establishing underground betting shops, which in most cases offer better odds than those provided by the casinos. However, these should not be considered not safe places to play; bettors have neither protection nor recourse against non-payment or lost deposits.

Among other legal forms of gambling in Venezuela are bingo and lotteries, both available under government supervision. The state lottery of Venezuela is called the Loteria del Tachira; its Kino game has been around since 1991, with proceeds going toward national welfare programs and support for sports activities.

Online, Venezuela has licensed two operators—Casino Bar and CasinoOnAir—both providing gaming services in English from Margarita Island, an offshore possession of the state. Their activities are governed by the Comision Nacional de Casino y Salas de Bingos. However, both web sites have bee flagged by Internet watchdog organisations as potentially disreputable, so players are warned to wager there at their own risk.

For Venezuelans who wish to bet online, there are plenty of options among foreign-based bookmakers. Currently, some 453 offshore sportsbooks welcome customers from Venezuela, including 91 with services in Spanish, such as BetVictor, Paddy Power, William Hill and Ladbrokes, to name just a few.