Online Poker Regulation Standards in Columbia

March 23, 2013

Colombia, one of South America’s most successful economies, moves to reinforce protection of its citizens and collect its share from online gaming.

As the South American country looks forward to the formulation of new laws that will legalize Internet gaming, unlicensed operators have received a stern warning from Coljuegos, the Colombian gaming regulator.

Currently, it is illegal to partake of online gaming. Under Colombian legal definitions, poker is a game of chance and legal in licensed casinos. President Rodrigo Vélez Jara of Coljuegos has advised Colombian citizens to have no confidence in the game play offered by unlicensed casinos, asserting that they have no legal protection while playing. He has asked them to report unlicensed online operators for prosecution.

The constitution mandates that revenues coming from state monopolies fund health care. With this regard, Sr Vélez accuses unlicensed offshore operators of “… operating outside the law and undermining the funding of public health services in Colombia.”

The penalties for operators caught breaching the law include fines and a five-year ban from offering online gambling services in Colombia.

In spite of the warnings, major online operators have not yet faced any noteworthy legal challenges as they continue to provide their services in the Colombian marketplace. Coljuegos’ exhortations seem to have done nothing to water down operators’ argument that online poker is not illegal under the current law: rather than explicitly against Colombian law, it is not covered at all.

Last fall, Coljuegos was tasked by the government to develop a regulatory framework to support a new online gaming licensing law. Vélez said, “in the future, online games will be included in the portfolio of betting options available to Colombian consumers.”

Coljuegos was established as a replacement of ETESA in 2011. ETESA was a regulator given much greater power and expected to generate much more revenue than its predecessor ECOSALUD S.A. In 2001, ECOSALUD S.A was disbanded due to massive overstaffing, corruption, and ineffectiveness. ETESA came in and managed to increase revenues for the national health budget by 2%, which amounted to $148m. Expectations on Coljuegos are an increase of this amount by a factor of five. Such a task implies tapping into new revenue streams presented by licensed online gaming.


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