Uruguay Considers Blocking Offshore Gambling Websites

Uruguay has joined a growing list of South American countries that have begun to target online gambling operators. The country plans to ban international operators from offering services to the country’s citizens. Fernando Serra, an advisor to the Ministry of Economy and Finance said that the government was considering drafting laws that would permit local authorities to block access to these sites. Incidentally, the government was also studying the issue of newly introduced digital services such as Spotify and Netflix from the point of view of how to tax them.

Just last week a local football team raised a number of eyebrows by wearing uniforms featuring the logo of a popular online bookmaker. Gambling is illegal in the country, and National Party lawmaker Jorge Gandini criticized the team for signing up with this sponsor. He also highlighted that it was the absence of any laws that made these activities possible.

The country’s Undersecretary of Economy, Pablo Ferreri, clarified that online gambling was almost entirely banned in the country with the exception of a few games run by the state-run monopoly. However, there weren’t any controls in place to prevent gamblers and sports betters from visiting the gambling sites of their choice irrespective of where they are operated from and from conducting monetary transactions at these sites.

Local casinos in Uruguay earned a total of U$6.15 billion (US$216 million) in the year 2016. This represented a 6.5% increase over the previous year’s revenues. Other gambling products such as Lottery and Tombola generated another U$10.8 billion (US$379.2 million), also a substantial increase over the previous year.

There have been repeated attempts to legalize online gambling in the country but these haven’t met with any success so far. In fact, the last time a gambling bill was introduced was in early 2016.

Uruguay isn’t the only South American country to have reservations about online gambling. Coljuegos, the gambling regulator in Columbia followed up its blocking of approximately 325 domains by lining up another 80 sites to be kicked out of the country’s digital space, as per the statement of its president Juan Pérez Hidalgo. Interestingly, the country had launched online gambling operations very recently, with its first online gaming license issued on the 30th of June. The licensee, Aquila Global Group, operates a website called Wplay that offers sports betting.

Argentina hasn’t yet turned its attention to offshore operators. Instead, the country has chosen to focus on local operators and has started by banning a domain owned by Miljugadas, which is based in the country’s Misiones province, because it has been offering its services to gamblers in Buenos Aires.

There is a strong possibility that Argentina will get a federal agency to monitor the online gambling industry, but the agency won’t be launched without stiff opposition. The biggest resistance is likely to come from provincial lottery operators would evidently wouldn’t be interested in being accountable to a federal body. The head of the Association of State Lotteries of Argentina (ALEA), Alfredo Monaco, stated that the provinces had the right to manage their own gambling industries and that any federal oversight would be in contravention of the Constitution.

Monaco also said that while ALEA favoured modernizing Argentina’s gambling industry by introducing online services, he specified that provinces that were opposed to the industry should be permitted to restrict their residents’ access to gambling sites. He also said that it was preferable to have interjurisdictional agreements between provinces and with Buenos Aires.

The atmosphere of uncertainty has spooked a number of operators. In fact, PokerStars quit the Colombian market as soon as news of the government crackdown on illegal operators was announced.

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