Tourism execs, gov’t launch anti-illegal gambling push
The Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, announced Monday the start of an educational campaign to urge island residents not to support illegal gaming.
The campaign also informs players about the illegality of participating in gaming outside casinos, particularly using adult entertainment slot machines with the hopes of winning prizes. The PRHTA has been on a crusade against the proliferation of the so-called video slot machines for the better part of the last two years. There are an estimated 100,000 illegal slots operating islandwide.
“We applaud this new initiative by the Tourism Co. to educate people about the illegality of playing gaming entertainment slot machines,” said PRHTA Chairman Ismael Vega. “Both the machine operator and the player are participating in an illicit activity and this is something of which many people are not aware.”
According to Vega, the entertainment slot machines are not authorized to pay out prizes and cannot have any of the distinctive features of a slot machine. Aside from the casino slot machines, the only slots authorized to pay out prizes to players are those sheltered by the Horse Racing Law.
The government campaign also seeks to cut down on illegal gambling, given that the adult entertainment slots undermine the agency’s budget and, as a result, Puerto Rico’s promotional and marketing efforts are affected, because it reduces income generated by hotel-run casino slot machines. The Tourism Co. has put those losses at $170 million a year.
“For years, we have warned about the proliferation of illegal slot machines and how they have affected casino operations and the budgets of the Tourism Co., the University of Puerto Rico and the Treasury Department,” Vega said.
Puerto Rico boasts about 15 casinos licensed by the Tourism Co., located inside almost every major resort and smaller hotels throughout the island. Casino revenues are split between the operator and the government, which gets 50 percent of the profits. In turn, that money is split to benefit three main components: the University of Puerto Rico (which gets 45.45 percent), the Treasury Department (15.15 percent), the Tourism Company, (25.8 percent) and the Tourism Industry Development Fund (13.6 percent).
Meanwhile, Marisel Meléndez, chairwoman of the PRHTA’s casino committee, urged other government agencies with jurisdiction over the matter to follow Tourism’s example and help fight illegal gaming.
“The Tourism Co. cannot address this problem alone,” said Meléndez. “Treasury, the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions, the Police Department and the Justice Department should be proactive in this fight since it affects the government and the entire tourism sector.”
“The laws are made to be enforced and these agencies are instrumental to guarantee it happens,” Meléndez said.