The gaming market in Colombia is the first jurisdiction in Latin America to set up a regulated online gambling environment. The eGaming Act was approved in 2016, and since then, the Colombian gambling market has been open to licensed operations. Colombia and Latin America have been targeted by major players in the industry due to the immense potential the region holds. Recent studies point towards a spike in demand for online gambling services in past years in the area. That has led to a surge in the number of gambling operators and service providers becoming interested in investing in local markets. The positive reaction is that multiple jurisdictions are considering the possibility of legalizing online gambling and opening up their markets for online gaming with licensed operations.
Paving the way for Latin America with Legislation
Colombia is essentially paving the way for countries like Mexico and Brazil to follow suit and fine-tune and update their existing gambling laws to meet contemporary demand. Colombia is moving away from its notorious status as a drugs capital. With recent headway made to end decades of conflict and revolutionary between militia groups, Colombia is finally emerging from that shadow. Colombia’s emergence as a jurisdiction for online gaming stems from Law 643, that is a 2001 provision aimed at increasing regulation of the gambling industry. Over 60% of Colombian adults regularly place wagers and are enthusiastic about gambling. Landbased casinos, slot parlours, bingo and lotteries are currently legal in Colombia. The state passed a set of laws in 2008 outlining the rules for the operation of slot halls and casinos. All operators were required to abide by the new set of regulations to continue operating in the country. The law stipulates casinos can only operate in commercial venues with the main activity being gambling. All electronic gambling games must be connected to a national information database network, and also follow the protocols.
Colombian eGaming Act
The Colombian government introduced measures to block any gambling website that does not follow proper licensing procedures. The Colombian eGaming Act contains a set of rules that govern the operation of online cash gaming activities, including poker, casino games, and sports betting. Instead of having to obtain separate licenses for every type of gambling, operators can opt for one license covering all activities. Moreover, to operate legally in Colombia, operators need to pay a licensing fee of around $200,000 a year and 15% tax on gross gaming revenues.
Colombian Gambling Authority
The gaming industry in Colombia is regulated by a governing body, just like other jurisdictions. The El Consejo Nacional de Juegos de Suerte y Azar (Coljuegos) ensures operators follow the protocols and legal requirements. The organisation replaced the defunct Empresa Territorial para la Salud (ETESA) in 2011 due to allegations of rampant corruption. The Coljuegos was responsible for drafting new gambling legislation and regulations, enabling it to exert a tighter grip on gambling activities and increase revenues.
Building on the Past
The Colombian government was restructured under a new Constitution in 1991, and Law 643 was enacted. The objective was to organise the prevailing, unsupervised collection of casinos, bingo halls, and slot parlous. However, by 2001, gambling was entirely controlled by underworld figures and paramilitary organizations that plagued the country for generations. The new rules proved successful, and under the guidance ETESA, Columbia saw its tax revenue from gambling increase by over 500%. Nevertheless, up until 2008, illegal gambling was rampant to such an extent that 20% of all betting on the county was unlawful, and 20,000 out of the country’s 65,000 slot machines were unlicensed. ETESA issued ten new gaming licenses by 2009, extended operations of 9 other venues, and renewed 22 permits for existing gambling enterprises. Colombia is only rivalled by Argentina in terms of South American casino operations. Cartagena, San Andrés, and Bogotá are home to many casino establishments. ETESA was disbanded in 2012 following a series of corruption scandals; however, the agency has been replaced by Coljuegos.
A Growing Market and Future Challenges
Colombia has a population approaching 50 million and an expanding economy that is fast becoming a hotbed for gambling activities. One of the most significant challenges the Coljuegos faces is to modernize the existing system of issuing gambling licenses to regulate the online gambling industry. A new draft was presented by the Coljuegos in 2016 outlining the new regulations for online gambling. Changes in Colombian gambling laws means operators need more starting capital; however, it will help players develop a sense of trust. Prior to the Coljuegos taking control of gambling activities in Colombia, the system was rife with corruption and illegal gaming activity. The association was formed to eliminate bribery and illicit activities, thereby creating realistic regulations that fully reflect modern gambling trends and increase revenues. These positive changes are already attracting betting companies to set up operators in Colombia and growing revenues through taxes and licenses. The Colombian gambling regulator Coljuegos has already granted an iGaming license to locally owned betting company Aquila Global Group, which was the first authorised by the regulatory body. Colombia’s regulated online gambling market closed strongly in 2019, while over 1.7m new customers registered in 2018. Colombia has steadfastly persevered through years of turmoil to become a shining example for South American countries to follow in terms of gambling legislation.
The online gambling industry in Latin America is about to be transformed, and Colombian law is the catalyst!