Paraguay fails to meet deadline for new slot machine laws

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Paraguay’s attempt to enforce a change in the legal gambling market has failed. The country’s lawmakers were pushing to approve a new law regulating slot machines, but they remained indecisive until the deadline passed. 

The law to be implemented emerged on April 20 in Congress, and it is intended to put an end to the executive branch’s decision to approve the placement and use of slot machines in other locations besides gambling venues, most of which will be public. According to Article 10 of the law, the regulation had only 90 days to be approved and implemented. The deadline for the bill’s approval expired on July 17. 

The law, “Ley de Tragamonedas”, was passed by the President of the Republic of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez. The bill prohibited slot machines from being installed in “public places with the presence of children”. This included areas like markets, hairdressers, pantries, pharmacies, and fast-food restaurants. 

The bill’s text revealed that it was created to “protect children and adolescents against the influence and risks derived from electronic games of chance that operate outside casinos or authorized gaming venues, in order to avoid possible harm that affects their physical and mental health”.

On the other hand, the move to broaden slot machine locations was led by Maria Galván del Puerto, the interim president of the National Gambling Commission (Conajzar). Despite Conajzar’s plan, several opponents came up with the argument that the bill negated the provisions of the two laws. Besides that, there were claims that it violated the Commission’s resolutions in shielding the more at-risk population, such as adolescents and children, from a possible gambling addiction. 

A Paraguayan specialist in gambling, Javier Balbuena, spoke on the matter and revealed that he thought the vacant area where the new law should have been was a clear indication that President Benítez had little interest in the matter. He added that it also shows that the government was unwilling to aid the legislature’s move to curb the spread of slot machine locations.

The gambling specialist also talked about Conajzar’s efforts, claiming that it could be easily twisted to the disservice of the vulnerable people it sought to protect. Balbuena further castigated the executive arm for their lack of interest in the parliamentary majority’s move to sanction the slot law and expressed regret that their inaction had no sanctions. 

The bill’s lack of attention was primarily due to a prior controversial contract between the Commission and a private gaming company, iCrop. The company specializes in the management and distribution of slot and game machines. The duo signed an agreement letting iCrop operate slot machines even though Conajzar was not legally authorized. If the bill were to be passed, the contract would be invalid.

Conajzar previously launched a plan that was approved by Resolution No. 34/2020 and provided a new way for slot machines to be exploited. To implement the plan, the Commission attempted to delegate its powers over slot machines to iCrop. Conajzar and the private company signed a contract that legalized the machine’s use in any business, whether related to gambling or not, in the country. However, as a result of the ensuing uproar, the Commission canceled the contract. 

Besides paying no heed to the bill, Conajzar did not listen to the request of Jose Rodriguez, a lawmaker who called for a public hearing. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the Commission’s actions toward slot operations. 

While the executive government branch has continued to show its lack of interest in the matter, the gambling regulator is still under much scrutiny. Prosecutors charged Conajzar’s former president, José Antonio Ortiz Báez, with some alleged irregularities in the gambling arrangements.  

Others accused in the same case were members of Conajzar’s previous board of directors. They include Carmen Corina Alonso, the former general director of the Directorate of Charity and Social Assistance, Rubén Antonio Roussillón; Raul Silver; and Ricardo Núñez, the former mayor of Villa Hayes. Juan Carlos Wasmosy, the son of the previous president and the owner of Technologies Development of Paraguay Álvaro Wasmosy, was also a part of the case. 

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