Contributed By Portilla Ruy-Diaz y Aguilar, S.C.
The Mexican gambling regulatory framework cornerstone is the Federal Gaming and Raffles Law (the “Gaming Law”), which was published in 1947 with only 17 articles. Its paucity of content shows that the historical reality in 1947 was different from the present day, with the internet and social networking.
For 57 years, the Federal Gaming and Raffles Law was the only legal framework for gambling in Mexico. Due to the ensuing uncertainty, and the precarious and limited nature of gaming regulation, as well as the continuous opening of land-based establishments, protected through constitutional court proceedings, on 17 September 2004 the Mexican government published the Regulations of the Federal Gaming and Raffles Law of 1947 (the “Gaming Regulations”), in order to improve and complete the federal law.
The Gaming Regulations were then reformed in 2012 and 2013. However, given the technological evolution and development of the gaming industry, further adaptations are required. Obviously, the technology used in 2004 is completely different to that used today. As an example, there are only three articles in the Gaming Regulations related to the placing of bets via the internet, telephone or electronically, even though the online gaming industry is growing exponentially in Mexico, not only in terms of operators and service providers, but also the number of participants.
Finally, it is important to mention that in the past two decades the Mexican government and some political parties have presented different bills to congress for approval. Unfortunately, none has been approved.
The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously the most notable event that has had an important and negative impact on the land-based gambling industry in Mexico, as the federal health authority ordered the complete closure of all land-based establishments. This suspension of activities lasted several months until the establishments were allowed to continue with their activities, with some restrictions on the maximum number of participants. The establishments were gradually permitted to have 30% and, in some cases, 50% to 100% of their actual capacity.
However, in some ways the COVID-19 crisis has had a positive impact on the gambling industry in terms of growth. Land-based permit holders and consumers have had the opportunity to experience online gaming, as well as electronic services and payments.
In other words, the temporary closure of casinos brought the opportunity for senior adults and young adult newcomers to participate in online gambling, as a result of not being able to visit land-based casinos for health reasons. In Mexico, senior adults were not used to playing and betting online.
According to some studies, the online gambling industry is growing in Mexico by 8–10% annually.
As previously mentioned, the Gaming Regulations in Mexico do not have a clear reference regarding online gaming activities. The Mexican regulations contain only three articles related to the placing of bets electronically or on the internet.
As an example, according to Article 91 paragraph VII of the Gaming Regulations, raffles may be conducted by mass media, among other modalities.
On the other hand, Article 85, relating to sports books, establishes that all authorised casinos will be able to capture bets via the internet, telephone or electronically. To do so, they must have an internal control system for transactions and describe the procedures and rules that ensure inviolability and prevent the manipulation of betting systems, among other requirements.
Finally, according to Article 104, participants attracted or registered through the internet or a telephone network must be identified through a number of registrations. For this reason, and as stated previously, there is a legal gap that has created a need to reform the law in order to create a special chapter to clearly and expressly regulate online gambling.
According to Mexican law, all games in which betting is involved must have authorisation and will be controlled and supervised by the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación or SEGOB). The games that are expressly accepted are those described in Article 2 of the Gaming Law, as follows: chess, draughts and other similar games; dominoes; dice; blackjack; bowling; billiards; football; and, in all their variations and denominations, races involving people, cars and animals; as well as, in general, all kinds of sports.
Land-based casinos and online gaming are permitted. In Mexico, there are 36 land-based permit holders that are, or could be, allowed to operate online gaming.
Bingo, Casino, Lotteries and Poker
A land-based casino normally covers bingo, raffles and slot machines but not online gaming or live gaming (poker and roulette). Permit holders must request special authorisation from SEGOB for those activities.
Notwithstanding that some games – such as live gaming, poker or roulette – are not expressly described in law, the Mexican government has authorised some permit holders to offer them in Mexico.
With regard to social gaming activities, the Gaming Regulations exclude the following from the need for authorisation: games involving betting that are played without profit, in a private home for the sole purpose of fun or as an occasional pastime, and that are not performed regularly, involving only people who are related, owners or residents of the place where they are carried out and who are admitted to them.
In Mexico, any gambling or gaming matters are governed by:
The Gaming Law and the Gaming Regulations are considered federal matters and therefore apply all over Mexico.
According to Article 1 of the Gaming Law, gambling is forbidden in Mexico and the only games and raffles that will be authorised by the Gambling and Raffles Bureau (Dirección General de Juegos y Sorteos, or the “Bureau”), which is the only authority empowered to grant gambling and raffle permits, are those games or raffles described in 2. Jurisdictional Overview.
According to Article 7 of the Gaming Regulations, games involving betting and raffles may only be carried out, operated or organised with prior written permission issued by the regulator.
The Gaming Regulations have expanded the Gaming Law’s restrictive vision and regulate gaming, betting and lotteries; however, the provisions are still insufficient and not properly actualised. As an example, "online gaming activities" do not have a complete description and requirements, and most of the related regulation and decisions rest on the Bureau’s criteria.
On the other hand, even though gaming activities are exclusively under federal jurisdiction, local governments and legislation are relevant to casino gaming, through property law, and local authorisation is required in order to open casino establishments. In some cases, local governments (ie, Baja California Sur) prevent the opening of new land-based casinos, with local constitutional zone retractions for such purposes. The states of Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon and Tlaxcala have established such (non-retroactive) restrictions or prohibitions within their legislation regarding the opening of such establishments.
Gambling is defined as any game in which there is a bet, as provided in the Gaming Law and the Gaming Regulations, subject to authorisation by the Bureau.
Land-based gambling is defined as any open or closed place in which games involving betting or raffles are carried out by permission of the Bureau in terms of the Gaming Law and the Gaming Regulations.
As mentioned in 2.2 Land-Based, the Gaming Regulations do not refer specifically to online gaming; therefore, the law does not have a formal definition.
According to Article 151 of the Gaming Regulations, the following are classified as serious offences, among others:
In accordance with Article 147 of the Gaming Regulations, any infringement of the law, or the permits issued by the Bureau, will be sanctioned with:
If a person is caught carrying out games of chance involving betting without having a permit issued by the regulatory authority, this is regarded as an illegal activity and is punished with imprisonment.
According to Article 12 of the Gaming Law, a prison term of between three months and three years and a fine of between MXN500 and MXN10,000 will be imposed on the owners, organisers, managers, administrators and players involved when forbidden gambling and betting take place, as well as others who participate in any way.
Although several efforts have been made by the federal legislative bodies (ie, the upper and lower houses of congress) no consensus has been reached regarding any amendments to the Gaming Law, which has not been modified once since its promulgation in 1947, nor concerning the Gaming Regulations, the latest reforms to which were published in 2013.
In terms of Article 3 of the Gaming Law, SEGOB, through the Bureau, is the federal executive power responsible for the regulation, authorisation, supervision and enforcement of gambling and raffle activities, including betting.
This authority is responsible for gambling in Mexico, with the exception of the National Lottery for Public Assistance (Lotería Nacional para la Asistencia Pública or LOTENAL), which has its own law and is owned and operated by the government.
The Gaming Regulations effectively provide for the organisation of games of chance in Mexico and, with their promulgation, they ended several disputes and conflicts arising from the deficiencies of the federal law. The jurisdiction’s approach in terms of regulation is therefore based on acquired rights.
No recent or forthcoming changes have been made, or are expected to be made, regarding the licensing and regulatory framework in Mexico.
The Gaming Law establishes four types of licences:
The operation of sports books and land-based casinos requires the specific approval of the local municipality, stating its consent to the installation and operation of such establishment. There is no standard procedure for obtaining this authorisation, nor a standard document that local authorities use for this purpose, so the documents and wording differ from one administration to another.
As mentioned, any person or business entity who/that wishes to operate a gambling activity must obtain a licence before starting business. Only Mexican legal entities – commercial companies duly formed and registered under the Business Entities Act – can apply for sports books and land-based casino licences.
The Bureau will assess a variety of factors; specifically for sports books and land-based casino licences, it will scrutinise the integrity and probity of the applicant’s shareholders and key personnel, the applicant's experience in the operation of the relevant product, and the incorporation of the principles of good corporate governance in the applicant's by-laws. The application must include disclosure of the ultimate beneficial owner.
However, the reality that prevails in Mexico is that the regulatory authority rarely grants new permits for land-based casinos. Therefore, any organisation interested in establishing a land-based casino or carrying out online gambling must be associated with one of the 36 authorised licensees.
For this purpose, permit holders must request, in terms of Article 30 of the Gaming Regulations, an authorisation from SEGOB to exploit their permit jointly with an operator (non-licensed entity) through some kind of association such as a joint venture, a service provider agreement or an agreement of any other nature. These third-party entities must be Mexican, with or without foreign stock capital. In addition, there is a restriction or prohibition on the operator related to:
The Gaming Regulations establish that sports books and land-based casino licences will have a minimum duration of a year and a maximum of 25 years, and may be extended for 15-year periods. The duration between such minimum and maximum periods is entirely at the discretion of the licensing authority.
Licences for opening and operating fairs, as well as for opening and operating temporary off-site horse races and cockfighting betting, are granted for a maximum validity of 28 days or the authorised period, as applicable.
It is important to note that Mexican gambling legislation does not expressly mention the term "online gaming".
Mexican law only states that establishments may take bets through mobile telephones, the internet or electronic devices. In the same way, Mexican regulations indicate that participants in raffles may take part through the internet or by telephone.
In other words, and based on the permits that Mexican law accepts, operators of land-based casinos may request authorisation to carry out online gambling, and national or foreign entities may enter into an agreement with one of the authorised permit holders to operate these activities.
Applications with the associated information and documentation are filed with the Bureau at its central offices in Mexico City. All documents must be original and in Spanish, while public documents from other jurisdictions must be apostilled and officially translated. In general terms, and among other things, the following information and documentation are required:
Legal entities must additionally file:
According to Article 17 of the Federal Law of Administrative Procedure, unless a general legal or administrative provision establishes another term, the time taken for the regulator to resolve petitions may not exceed three months. If the term expires without a requirement and/or resolution from the authority, the application will be deemed as negatively resolved, unless otherwise provided in another legal or administrative provision.
However, considering that the regulator has the power to request any additional documents or information deemed necessary, in practice, this kind of authorisation and its procedure generally exceeds the initial three-month timeframe provided by law.
The Gaming Regulations do not impose any fees for application for a land-based licence and/or special authorisation for online gaming.
According to Article 5 of the Gaming Law, licence holders have to pay annual fees denominated as “participations” of the products in a range from 1–2% of the income.
Applications and associated information and documentation must be filed with the Bureau at its central offices in Mexico City. See 4.7 Application Requirements for more details.
See 1.1 Current Outlook and 1.2 Recent Changes.
According to Article 76 of the Gaming Regulations, permit holders may be authorised by SEGOB to accept bets via the internet, by telephone or via electronic communications as well as handle bets for different events, such as sports competitions and games allowed by the Gaming Regulations.
For this purpose, permit holders or operators authorised in terms of Article 30 of the Gaming Regulations that are interested in obtaining a permit for online activities also need to comply with some other requirements. These relate mainly to technology and operational matters, which are mentioned in Article 85 of the Gaming Regulation and consist, among other things, of:
The aforementioned control system must have at least:
Last but not least, the mechanism for attracting bets must be approved by the Bureau.
Mexican gambling legislation does not specifically regulate the use, registration or certification of software and/or suppliers. However, the government does intend to create an official standard to be observed or complied with by software providers and/or machine manufacturers. To date, this has not been discussed or approved.
Mexican gambling legislation does not specifically regulate affiliates.
Article 30 of the Gaming Regulations states that the permit holder can exploit its permit in conjunction with a third party, through some type of joint venture, the provision of services, or an agreement of any other nature.
For this purpose, the permit holder must request and obtain authorisation from the regulatory authority, and submit its petition accompanied by all the information contained in Article 22 of the Gaming Regulations relating to an application for a land-based permit. Also, the permit holder must have the following:
See 3.7 Recent or Forthcoming Legislative Changes.
The primary tool to prevent unlicensed gambling activities is the prohibition on promoting unlicensed gambling websites. Moreover, it is prohibited for unlicensed gambling websites to undertake marketing or publicity in Mexico.
Internet service providers, broadcasters, radio stations and some suppliers for the gambling industry, including payment processors, are prevented from hiring, and providing services to, unlicensed websites. In fact, those companies normally do not enter into agreements with those websites.
The gambling regulatory framework is focused on protecting minors and preventing their access to gambling, as well as ensuring the integrity and transparency of gambling activities and maintaining a fair game system that is constantly supervised. All entities that are involved in the gambling industry and hold a licence granted by the Bureau (both land-based and online operators) must have internal controls or measures to help prevent gambling addiction.
No recent or forthcoming changes have been made, or are expected to be made, regarding responsible gambling (also known as safer gambling) in the Bureau's policies and criteria.
Regarding online gambling, almost all the permits granted by the Bureau have specifically established that all authorised casinos must have an internal control system in order to prevent the participation of minors in placing bets and the manipulation of betting systems, among other requirements.
Furthermore, the authority stipulates that platforms must be designed to enable responsible gambling functions, such as the right of participants to self-exclude from gambling. In addition, operators are obliged to have warning messages on their platforms to help prevent gambling addiction as well as messages detailing the possibility of receiving counselling and treatment.
Moreover, some permit holders make substantial contributions to different NGOs related to responsible gaming.
In accordance with the Federal Law for the Prevention and Identification of Operations with Resources of Illicit Origin (the "Anti-money Laundering Law"), gambling activities are considered “vulnerable activities”. Permit holders and operators are therefore obliged to comply with the provisions of the following laws, among others:
No recent changes have been made regarding Anti-money Laundering (AML) legislation, and no forthcoming changes are expected.
Licence holders have certain obligations under the Anti-money Laundering Law, the most significant of which are:
The relevant regulatory/supervisory agencies are the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público), through the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera) and the Deputy General Directorate of Legal Processes (Dirección General Adjunta de Procesos Legales).
In terms of Article 9 of the Gaming Regulations, the advertising and marketing of games involving betting and raffles, authorised in accordance with the Gaming Law and the Gaming Regulations, as well as that conducted in the establishments in which they are carried out, will be performed in accordance with the terms of the applicable provisions.
Relevant products may only be offered to persons of legal age. People under the influence of alcohol or drugs will not be allowed into the facilities. Bets will be made in the national currency, Mexican pesos (cryptocurrency is excluded). Permit holders cannot offer credit to the participants.
Any advertising and/or marketing of gaming activities must be performed under the following terms and conditions:
The sanctions or penalties that can be imposed for infringing advertising regulations include a fine or, in cases where the breach is considered serious or significant, the closure of the establishment. The severity of the punishment will depend on the criteria of the authority and the implications of the offence committed by the permit holder or operator.
These sanctions may be imposed by the regulatory authority or, in a few cases, by the Federal Consumer Protection Agency.
No recent changes have been made, or are expected to be made, regarding the Advertising Bureau’s policies and criteria.
Permit holders have an obligation under the Gaming Regulations to inform SEGOB of any change of control of permit holders and their authorised operators. Although there is no definition of "control" within the gaming legal framework, permit holders are obliged to notify the authority of any change of shareholders up to the ultimate beneficiary owner in their corporate structure, as well as any modification to their authorised operators.
A notice obligation is triggered whenever:
Such provision is applicable to any change in the shareholding composition of the permit holder or of the shareholders or partners thereof, whether it is carried out through capitalisations, reduction of capital, spin-offs, mergers or other corporate practices in which other companies mediate between the permit holder, shareholders, partners and the ultimate beneficiary owner. The only exception is operations carried out through the stock exchange, in which the transaction does not imply a change of control in the permit holder and/or authorised operator.
The Gaming Regulations do not provide any special rules in relation to passive investors in acquisitions or changes of control; the general rule mentioned in 10.2 Change of Corporate Control Triggers is also applicable in this scenario.
In cases where the regulatory authority considers that the violations committed by permit holders and/or operators are serious, it proceeds to revoke the permits granted and/or close down the establishments operated under said permit. In less serious cases, fines will be imposed.
This process is carried out through corresponding administrative sanctioning procedures and with the right of defence of the interested parties.
In the case of serious violations of the law or illegal gambling, the regulatory authority gives the right of intervention to the criminal authorities.
The authority carries out the execution of its resolutions, such as the closure of establishments, using public force such as the national guard and, in serious cases, the army. The establishments are sealed to prevent further activities.
Regarding fines, these are collected through collaboration agreements with the different authorities.
Financial penalties are enforced through the collection procedures established in the law, in which goods or cheque accounts can be seized if the permit holder or operator refuses to pay the fine. Amounts are calculated discretionally by the authority depending on different factors, such as the recurrence and seriousness of the infringement. No recent changes have been made, or are expected to be made, regarding the Enforcement Bureau’s policies and criteria.
Although infractions of the Gaming Law and/or the Gaming Regulations do not constitute crimes or felonies, such provisions do contemplate administrative detention as a sanction. However, in practice, this is not something that has been enforced by the authorities.
There are no recent regulatory trends related to social gaming in Mexico that have impacted the market.
There are no recent regulatory trends related to esports in Mexico that have impacted the market.
There are no recent regulatory trends related to fantasy sports in Mexico that have impacted the market.
There are no recent regulatory trends related to skill gaming in Mexico that have impacted the market.
There are no recent regulatory trends related to blockchain or cryptocurrency in Mexico that have impacted the market.
The following federal taxes apply to gambling:
The following local taxes may or may not apply to gambling depending on the particular local regulation:
See 3.7 Recent or Forthcoming Legislative Changes.