San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Deputy Looks Into Sports Wagering Uproar

LIBERTARIAN legislative deputy Carlos Herrera says he is investigating the sudden and unexpected decision by the San José Municipality to shut down the sports wagering operations at many of the city’s casinos.Although three months have passed since the New England Patriots squeaked past the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl XXXVIII to win the U.S. National Football League (NFL) championship, it is still unclear why city officials stormed into two of San José’s best-known casinos on Super Bowl Sunday and shut down their sports desks, also known as sportsbooks (TT, Feb. 13).Since then, the Municipality says it has shut down sports wagering at 10 casinos in San José. City officials say betting on sports is illegal in the country’s casinos because no law exists that specifically regulates the activity and so it is their obligation to shut them down.CASINO owners are holding their ground, arguing the lack of a law specifically banning the activity is proof of its legality.Representatives of several casinos said they are taking legal action against the Municipality, fighting what they consider an arbitrary and unjustified abuse of power by the city government.Herrera, a member of the Legislative Assembly’s Commission on Casinos and Gambling, considers the matter of vital importance. He says he is concerned about the jobs of the casino employees affected by the closings.His investigation into the matter is informal and will not have legally binding conclusions, he pointed out.“The Legislative Assembly cannot interfere in this matter, it is a municipal affair,” Herrera said. “We are investigating the situation to make sure the sports-betting operation closings were not being used to pressure casino owners into making additional payments to the Municipality.”HERRERA admitted the investigation has not advanced much, and he accused the municipality of being unwilling to cooperate.“We have faced total secrecy,” Herrera told The Tico Times on Monday. “A law of silence has been applied in the municipality. It has made it impossible for us find out what the municipality’s reasons for acting were.”Herrera says he is concerned the closings might not have been based on valid legal parameters.Julio Cascante, of the municipality’s Permits Office, says his department is determined to enforce the municipality’s interpretation of the law. He insisted that since there is no such thing as a permit for conducting sports betting, all casinos that have sportsbooks are violating the law.“WE have been conducting routine operations,” Cascante explained. “The permits department conducts regular checks of all businesses to verify they have the required operating permits. These are regular sweeps and don’t necessarily target sportsbooks. However, if we do find a sportsbook operation, we will close it.”The sweeps have the full support of San José Mayor Johnny Araya and the city council, he said.He said several casinos affected by the measures had filed complaints before the municipality and the courts.“Some have taken legal action,” he said. “We are aware of at least four that have tried to reopen. We’re awaiting the final court decision. We have given our technical criteria. It will be up to the courts to uphold or reject what the municipality maintains.”MEANWHILE, the sportsbook areas of several San José casinos remain closed. Casino Club Colonial’s sports desk, one of the two shut down on Super Bowl Sunday, has yet to reopen its sports desk. Club Colonial is in the process of taking legal action against the municipality, according to casino owner Shelby MacAdams.MacAdams said he has yet to receive concrete reasons from city officials explaining why Club Colonial’s sports desk was shut down.“I really don’t know [the reasons behind the Municipality’s actions],” he told The Tico Times via fax. MacAdams said the casino’s accountant was in the process of determining the effects of the closure on casino revenues and how that might affect personnel.Gregory Ruzicka, manager of Hotel Del Rey, also shut down by officials that Sunday, confirmed he had voluntarily decided not to resume sports wagering operations because they “weren’t very profitable.”Representatives of the nearby Tropical Casino’s sports desk, which appeared to be open, said they had “no comment” on the matter. Representatives of the Horseshoe Casino also declined to comment.THE controversy has renewed discussion of casino regulation or, more importantly, lack of it. Although advances have been made in recent months toward replacing the country’s outdated 1920s gaming laws, much remains to be done.Commission members admit the bill they are working on does not include attempt to regulate casino sports-wagering desks.“Sports wagering is not a casino activity,even if it takes place inside a casino,”explained Roy Thompson, an aid to deputyFederico Vargas, a member of the commissionand a long-time proponent of gamblingregulation. “By the term casino, we understandgaming tables and slot machines.“THIS type of wagering is not regulatedby the casino legislation under discussion,”he said. “It should be part of sportsbook regulations.However, sportsbook regulationshave only recently started being discussedby the commission (TT, April 2).”Herrera says he understands the needto regulate the activity, but is not sure how.“We understand [casino] sportsbooks aredifferent from casino games and online gamblingcall centers,” he said. “We are awarethis intermediate activity exists. It must bediscussed and included in legislation.”

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