San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gov’t Limits Casinos

New regulations handed down by the Arias administration will restrict the size of casinos in Costa Rica, as well as hours of operation.

To be enforced by a hodge-podge of government bureaucracies and a special police unit of a yet-to-be-determined size, the new regulation comes partly as a reaction to the announcement in February that a large Russian casino company was planning to open operations in Costa Rica.

“This is not an activity that we want to encourage,” said Vice President Laura Chinchilla, who is also interim Public Security Minister and headed the commission that drew up the new regulations.

The new regulations follow the pattern of a bill that has been kicking around the Legislative Assembly for eight years.

Stand-alone casinos will be prohibited. Casinos must be within a hotel of at least three stars and will not be allowed to take up more than 15% of the hotel’s space. Size will be otherwise limited according to the number of rooms in the hotel.

For example, a 60-room hotel can have a casino no larger than 10 tables and 60 slot machines, Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides said.

“We want hotels with casinos, not casinos with hotels,” he said. Hours of operation will be limted to 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and require casinos to qualify for special Health Ministry permits.

Health Minster María Luisa Avila warned gambling is a “sickness” that causes “great mental and physical damage” to people, including, she said, the risk of a heart attack caused by a big win.

Penalties for breaking the rules will be meted out mainly by the Costa Rican Tourism Board, which would wield its power to take away official tourism certifications that allow casinos to hold their permits.


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