E-gaming Companies Making Presence Felt in Argentina
by James Marrison
Now that there are signs that the government is looking to green light online gaming, virtual gambling sites are becoming an increasingly visible presence in the Argentine media.
At present online gaming is illegal in the autonomously governed city of Buenos Aires home to 13 million people but legal throughout the rest of the country where permission is granted by the regional governments where they operate. In theory only players living in that region where the licence has been granted are allowed to play. The first online gambling licence was awarded in 2006 and only three licences have been granted nationwide since then.
However, online gaming could soon receive the go ahead under legislation now being considered by the national government. While the legislation is now being considered online gaming companies are beginning to promote themselves in the Argentine media.
Gambling in Argentina has become an increasingly popular and accessible pastime over recent years with the numbers of casinos and bingo halls spreading at a rapid rate all over the country. Today Argentina has around one hundred and fifty casinos and almost 50,000 slot machines. Furthermore, Internet penetration is one of the highest in the region.
Argentines are also keen sports fans and are of course particularly passionate about football. But at present sports betting is limited to horse racing and a government sports betting programme based around football called “Prode.” Both have limited points of sales and are waning in popularity. Run by the National Lottery Prode, for instance, takes in less than $100,000 a year in bets.
In August 2009, Head of the Cabinet, An√≠bal Fern√°ndez announced that the government was considering allowing online gambling nationwide. This was due to an increase in the number of bets made online via non-government sanctioned betting sites. It was believed also, but not confirmed by the government, that additional gaming tax income would also be used to help fund the rights to broadcast football matches.
The government in 2009 acquired the rights from the Argentine football Association to broadcast football matches live from the first and second divisions for the next ten years in a deal where the government agreed to pay $150 million a year.
Significantly there was no objection from the government when PokerStars signed a US$ 600,000 sponsorship deal with River Plate, one of the biggest and most emblematic football teams in Latin America in 2009. As a result PokerStars today not only promotes its services via the team’ website but also live via matches in Argentina and in Latin America through the South American equivalent of the Champions League – “La Copa de Libertadores” – a tournament for which River Plate usually qualifies (although the club failed to qualify this year).
This is despite the fact that PokerStars does not have a licence to operate in Argentina. However, PokerStars allows its customers to bet using play money and also provides access to a poker school which has deflected much of the potential criticism. At the same time it seems to be becoming increasingly acceptable to advertise online gambling sites via the mass media. Other interactive gambling sites are actively promoting themselves via cable television, chat shows and poker websites and blogs dedicated to poker.
There are now two cable channels devoted entirely to gambling in Argentina which broadcast 24 hours a day.
Broadcast nationwide, programming include documentaries, films which feature gambling and local and international tournaments as well updated poker news, and boxing and horse racing coverage. The company is owned by local TV celebrity and games show host called Gerardo Sofovich – a keen gambler. The channel, although not promoting online gaming businesses, does provide a means by which local casinos and bingo halls can promote their services.
Starting in June 2010 the Poker Channel, which provides programmes to a total of 26 million homes in thirty countries, began to broadcast its programmes daily for six hours via the Gambling TV channel.
Launching also in September 2010 was Poker Sports a cable channel which offers programmes specifically based around poker. The channel covers both international and local tournaments. Some of the top online gaming companies in the world are now sponsoring their programmes and advertising their services in Argentina via the Poker Sports channel including Bwin, 888.net, Full Tilt Poker and Party Poker.
Meanwhile, PokerStars has also been able to attract local media celebrities to promote its products. Several local celebrities attended the final of the 2010 Latin American Poker Tournament in the city of Rosario an event sponsored by PokerStars. Famed local diva and chat show host Susana Gimenez, as well as international football player Juan Veron, and tennis player Gaston Gaudio all attended the final.
PokerStars has also created a series of television spots specifically designed for the Argentine market one of which includes Juan Veron who is now one of the company’ international ambassadors. The commercial, which emphasised the similarities between poker and football, aired in June 2010 throughout Latin America.