Puerto Rico’s gambling industry hits 75, with 18 casinos in operation
Puerto Rico’s casino industry is marking 75 years since the approval of the law that authorized the establishment of gambling halls and slot machines, and which over the past decade has generated $1.4 billion for the island’s government, the Puerto Rico Gaming Commission confirmed.
The interim director of the Gaming Commission, Jaime Rivera-Emmanuelli, said that the law has positioned the island as a gaming destination, generating substantial tourism activity.
“This goal is constantly met if we consider that the island has a growing catalog of tourist offerings, to which remote sports betting and games have recently been added,” he said.
Puerto Rico was the second jurisdiction in the United States to legislate casinos, which happened in 1948, following Nevada, which legalized the activity in 1931.
“With the approval of Act 221 of May 15, 1948, the legal framework was established on the island to safeguard transparency in betting games through regulation,” Rivera-Emmanuelli said.
The gaming official added: “The legal framework made possible the creation of a formal industry overseen by the government, looking to ensure tourists and locals the greatest guarantees of purity of the games. Meanwhile, the regulation allows them to make important contributions to the government’s coffers.”
Puerto Rico has 18 casinos in operation, all located within hotels, providing about 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. The revenue they generate is split among the casinos, the central government, educational programs of the University of Puerto Rico, the Treasury Department, and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
During the past 10 years, 2013 to 2023, the government collected a total of $1.4 billion; specifically, the University of Puerto Rico received $620 million, the Treasury $213 million and the Tourism Co. $537 million.
Ismael Vega, a veteran casino industry executive and general manager of the Casino Metro at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino in San Juan’s Convention Center district, credited the Gaming Commission and the Tourism Co. for “a transparent and well-overseen industry, and for being facilitators that have opened doors to innovation and leading the industry through changes.”
Those changes include new gaming options, such as esports, which Vega said were made possible quickly because the Gaming Commission took under its wing the legislation that authorized it in Puerto Rico. In the past year, the agency has issued a handful of licenses to different casinos, allowing them to offer esports gambling.
Vega noted that the industry saw its biggest change between 1996 and 1997, when casino operations were transitioned from government control to the hotels themselves, prompting innovations to remain competitive with other jurisdictions.
Looking ahead, Vega said the challenge will be to “continue to learn about compliance and practices, which is ongoing. We also have to stay current on changing modalities and trends. The Gaming Commission also has to continue being a facilitator as they’ve been so far, because the industry’s growth depends on it.”