Experts say Mexico could legalize casino gambling

Experts at the Global Gaming Expo say Mexican lawmakers may legalize casino gambling this year, opening the door to a potentially enormous market.


Legislation to legalize casinos in border and resort areas is pending in the lower house of Mexico’s Congress, said Donald Brennan, vice president of development for Nevada Gold&Casinos; Inc.


“The odds are that before November 2002, it will actually, for the first time, come to a vote, and I am now predicting it will pass,”Brennan said Thursday.


Mexico wants more U.S. dollars and Euros, and one way to do that is to increase tourism, which Nevada-style gambling could fuel, said Brennan, whose company is scouting Mexico for casino opportunities.


The country already has quality resort, beach and golf environments, he said.


“If you add the dimension of gaming, all of a sudden Mexico is really on the map,”he said.


Brennan was among four panelists discussing the prospects for Mexican casino gambling at the Global Gaming Expo trade show that has attracted an estimated 12,000-plus people this week.


Mexico has had legal racetracks since the 1930s and race and sports books since the 1970s, said Susan Bala, president and chief executive officer of Racing Services Inc. Her company has eight books in the country and is preparing to open a track for horse and dog racing across the border from Laredo, Texas.


“(Mexico) could be one of the most important new emerging UFA gaming markets,”Bala said.


Gambling consultant Steven Gallaway of The Innovation Group estimated conservatively that Mexico could be a $3-billion-a-year casino market, with at least $600 million of that along Mexican border towns.


But Bala estimated the market across from the Laredo-Brownsville region alone could amount to $600 million yearly.


Brennan said that after more than a decade of off-and-on discussion, the chances for passage of legislation legalizing casinos now look good.


“It shows the change in Mexico,”particularly since the election two years ago of President Vicente Fox.


Bradford Smith, former chairman of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, has consulted with Mexican officials about gambling regulatory and industry structure.


“The Congress in Mexico is very serious about bringing casinos into Mexico and they’re very serious about doing it the right way,”Smith said.


They’ve asked how to exclude the criminal element, promote positive economic impacts, taxes, jobs and more, he said.


Aside from tourists, Mexico’s population of 91 million people offers a large market base for gambling, Gallaway said, estimating that 60 percent have enough disposable income to gamble.


If legislation passes this fall, it would take months to establish a control commission and regulatory framework, making the timing of any casino openings uncertain, panelists said.


Brennan envisions the casino legislation allowing about 65 percent foreign ownership in casinos, with 35 percent held by a Mexican partner. He advised picking a substantial, wealthy, well-respected Mexican partner.


“If you don’t, don’t get in there,”he cautioned.