The USA's southern neighbour is well known for its fascinating ancient civilization, tropical sandy beaches and unfortunately, well-publicised drug issues. Despite its problems, the United Mexican States remains one of the world's largest economies, and in direct opposition to its presentation in the media, it has surprisingly strict laws on certain issues - specifically, gambling.
President Lazaro Cardenas is believed to have been the first official to make certain forms of gambling illegal when he took office in 1935. The move came several decades after the 1911 Mexican Revolution, which saw the French colonists driven out and all French-style casinos closed. Thanks to increasing pressure from the Catholic Church over the next few years, the legislation was extended to cover all forms of gambling in 1947. However, these laws were not maintained as strictly as they could have been, with lotteries and sports betting still widespread throughout the latter half of the 20th Century.
After several decades of denial, the government accepted that the legislation had long ceased to be effective and in 2004 finally relaxed the gaming laws, four years into Vincente Fox's presidency. Gambling in Mexico now falls under the control of the Secretaría de Gobernacion, or Ministry of the Interior. In the month following the new regulations, serving Secretary of State Santiago Creel approved more gaming licences than had been issued in the previous 77 years.
Online gambling in Mexico appeared a few years before these laws were changed, when the government tentatively issued a small number of online licences. The fairly significant catch, however, was that they catered only to foreign players, with Mexican citizens banned from taking part. However, bookmakers in other countries were not blocked from offering services to Mexicans and since the country shares the Spanish language with many others, Mexican online gamblers were virtually spoilt for choice, with over 470 websites accepting Mexican players.
Horse racing, dog racing and super-fast ball game Jai Alai are all popular subjects for sports betting in Mexico, but blood sports also still attract huge crowds. Cockfighting in particular enjoys a strong following, with the modern version seeing steel blades fastened to the chickens' feet in an attempt to turn them into something like the poultry version of X-Men’s Wolverine. Two cocks are thrown together until one emerges the victor. Although this activity is technically illegal and so not included in official sports books, its popularity means that both the sport itself and the informal betting between audience members that usually occurs are mainly overlooked by law enforcement.
Equally violent, bullfighting was brought over with the Spanish colonists and despite campaigners seeking to ban the sport in its home country, the activity still thrives in Mexico. Mexico City hosts the largest bullfighting ring in the world, with its capacity of 55,000 rivalling many football stadiums. Traditional betting activities like lottery, bingo, video slot machines and poker are also popular, but the laws forbidding locals from taking part mean that they are largely reserved for tourists coming over from America or Europe.
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of large, upscale casinos being built in Mexico, but crucially, these have all been near the American border, catering to holiday-makers rather than locals. Tourist hotspots like Puerto Penasco and Cancun now boast a Lucky Point Casino and a Playboy Club respectively, but despite these developments, there have not been many high profile gambling events in the country.
Mexico has only recently laid out laws for gambling, both physically and online, so there is still plenty of room for the market to grow. While internet access in many rural areas had restricted the growth of online gaming, the arrival of affordable smartphone technology provides Mexican citizens with a cheaper way to access the internet and the wealth of gambling options it offers. However, with the lines between legal and illegal gaming still fairly blurred, the country may need to clarify its laws further if it hopes to secure investment or publicity from the larger gambling chains.