By Ricki Chavez-Munoz
Attending a couple of conferences in Latin America lately, industry leaders were debating ways to address the issue of casino gambling’s poor image in society. It has taken about half a century for casino operators to realize that the sinister legacy of casinos, from when they were owned by shady characters and criminals, still weighs heavily in a modern industry that is regulated with severe jealousy by governments the world over.
In Latin American countries like Panama, Mexico and Colombia, some banking groups are blocking regular business activities of casino operations on account of complying with money laundering mechanisms.
Unlike most industries, casinos have not enjoyed every-day financial support from banks, such as overdraft or lease facilities, and if bank guarantees or bonds are a service on offer to casinos with the excruciating pain of a visit to the dentist, it is only after hefty cash deposits are made to banks that pay interest on these in lowly single figures, while lending such cash at the highest possible rates on a business that is win-win for them.
And at the first sign of casino licensing or industry expansion anywhere, the usual suspects raise the spectre of 20th Century gangster land and loose women, plus the usual dose of narcotics and family ruin for the poor unsuspecting public, which was associated with casinos decades ago.
Practitioners of high morals in a country like Brazil are the first up in arms against casino legislation, totally ignoring the fact that from church to den of iniquity, the illegal and ubiquitous Jogo do Bicho street lottery sells like hot cakes to rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief and others. This in a country regularly involved in corruption on an industrial scale, involving constitutional presidents, senators, judges, and lesser elected servants of the people.
The latest nation going for casino legislation is Japan, which has Pachinko gaming machines as a national entertainment industry. As Pachinko gambling halls are widespread in Japan, offering modern slot machines (called pachislo or pachislots) and resembling casinos more and more, such modern gambling devices can be highly customizable, keeping players well hooked on games for hours on end.
Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan and Pachinko balls won from games cannot be exchanged directly for money in the pachinko parlour where they are exchanged for prizes or tokens that in turn can be exchanged for cash at a place conveniently located round the corner the from parlour, which also owns it.
Also, it is said that there are 30 million regular pachinko gamblers in an industry that skirts the law with police and Japanese lawmakers perfectly aware of such illegal activities; like their illegal cousins in Brazil’s jogo do bicho, operators have their own legal organizations to protect their activities.
With casino legislation on the Japanese horizon, reports of leaders of Japan’s pachinko industry trying to dress up their trade as “familiar and casual entertainment for the people,” instead of one of the most pernicious forms of disguised gambling, sound rather like the pot calling the kettle black when they say that casinos in the country might point the problem gambling finger on them.
Several studies in Japan have concluded that gambling addiction in the country sits squarely on the shoulders of the pachinko industry, which “currently plays the overwhelmingly dominant role in producing the nation’s problem gamblers.”
In Brazil, Jogo do Bicho operators have no idea about responsible gaming and in Japan, too, operators do not contemplate any sort of programme on problem gambling. As unregulated and illegal forms of gambling with direct and indirect cash payouts, both gambling forms are at the mercy of criminal elements and organized crime.
Casinos on the other hand went through the shady age of unregulated and illegal operations decades ago, and on the whole have a role in business and society to play, whether in Scandinavia, Latin America or Asia. And this is the message that casino operators need to address with more vehemence so that their industry is accepted as mainstream anywhere in the world.
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