Chile's Superintendency of Casinos President

Vivien Villagrán: "We hope to have the legal framework approved this year to regulate the activity accordingly"

Vivien Villagrán at the Cibelae Congress 2024
Reading time 4:29 min

Within the framework of the Cibelae Conference, which took place last week at the Sofitel Recoleta Hotel in the city of Buenos Aires, Yogonet talked to Vivien Villagrán, President of the Chilean Superintendency of Gaming Casinos (SCJ), about the gambling situation in her country.

During the talk, Villagrán referred to the bill to regulate casinos and online sports betting, which is currently in the Senate Chamber, and to the current situation of Chilean land-based casinos.

The articles of the bill regulating the online sector will have to be debated in the Senate after the Economy Committee approves the initiative in general. According to your calculations, when do you think a regulatory framework will be in force in the country?

It is now in the second legislative procedure. There is still a third stage and finally a definitive vote on the project, but there is still a long way to go.

We hope to have the legal framework approved this year to regulate the activity accordingly, and that it can be done effectively.

Do you think that the Cibelae Conference can provide an exchange of knowledge on legal betting?

This conference is fascinating and covers a series of aspects that must be considered when regulating betting platforms. Although the focus here is on sports betting and we are regulating all platforms in general, we can hear from other countries that have much more experience and where the whole issue related to match-fixing and competitions became a fundamental element.

It seems to me that the second thing, which is tremendously relevant, is how behind these activities some structures are often linked to organized crime, as well as money laundering. It is fundamental that these issues be incorporated comprehensively into the regulation.

Regarding online gambling sites currently operating in Chile without a regulatory framework, how should they be treated in the new law regulating the sector? Should there be a cooling-off period for all of them or do you consider the retroactive payment of taxes, as currently proposed, to be viable?

As the bill stands at the moment -and I say at the moment because it is still pending legislative procedure and there could be changes- it contemplates the prohibition of platforms that have been operating illegally for 12 months before the publication of the law.

The law, as it is currently defined, includes two instances: a transitory period in which those who have not been operating illegally in the country for the last 12 months before the publication of the law, or those who have never operated, may enter a regime that is a little more flexible than the definitive regime (more flexible not in the sense that the requirements are reduced, but that a series of assumptions are made so that the process of operating is much faster); and once the regimen period begins, operators have to adjust to all the conditions established therein.

That is how the bill currently stands. This assumes that the Superintendency is going to review those jurisdictions in which the main aspects that the law seeks to safeguard are contained. Therefore, if there is a platform that has never operated illegally in Chile and has a license in another country, let's say Spain or Colombia, for example, it could enter this transition period by presenting the certificate obtained in that jurisdiction.

Once regulated, these platforms will be controlled by the SCJ. Do you plan to create a specific body for this activity?

The bill foresees the creation of capacities within the Superintendency to be able to take particular charge of this market.

This market, in terms of how it is regulated, is very similar to how land-based casinos are regulated, with some differences. When I say similar, I mean that, in a way, the legal assets to be protected are the same.

What is different is the scenario in which this occurs. Here we have transactions that operate on a platform. Therefore, there are issues of cybersecurity, identification of those who play, or having an effective mechanism to ensure that those whom the law expressly excludes from this market cannot open accounts.

In this last case, I am referring, for example, to people who owe alimony. This is a very interesting issue because in Chile there is a registry of alimony debtors, and those who owe alimony cannot create an account. All these types of aspects will have to be duly taken into account to comply with what the law establishes.

How do you evaluate the performance of land-based casinos in terms of revenues and contributions to the treasury so far in 2024?

This year, we are reaching numbers similar to those we had pre-pandemic. Let's remember that the pandemic generated an important drop in the activity. There has been an adjustment in average expenditure per player, but the number of players has increased.

And why is that? Because, in the case of the pandemic, there were a series of incentives that were generated so that people could have some additional funds. This meant that the players had more money to increase their average amount.

But I would say that today we are already at very similar figures to those we had before the pandemic, with the challenges of the physical game, where there is a combination between gaming and non-gaming to somehow generate an increasingly attractive market in terms of entertainment.

Do you think online gambling will interfere with the growth of land-based casinos and their revenues? 

So far, the evidence has shown that, in general, in those jurisdictions where they have legislations that have been in place for more than two or three years, there is no cannibalization, so to speak, on the part of online gambling concerning physical gambling. They would be, in a way, two different products that in some parts might have a certain area of overlap but that do not have the effect that one cannibalizes the other.

The regulators in Colombia with whom we met told us that, in their case, what they observed was that even in recent times some of the players in the physical casino sector had increased. And in Peru, they told us that when online gaming was opened they were not very affected either.

Besides, we have to take into account that, in the case of Chile, we currently have platforms that operate irregularly. Therefore, the effect already exists. What happens is that it exists in an unregulated market.

What is the big problem of what we have today? We have unfair competition because we have a part of a market that operates without paying taxes and without taking into account all the mechanisms that regulation imposes on it and, on the other hand, casinos that pay taxes and comply with all that the law requires of them.

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