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Mexico Casino Update

As you may have seen, it has been widely reported in Mexico City, Houston and Phoenix newspapers that President Fox may be willing to make a bet on legalizing casino gambling in Mexico.

Clandestine bets have always taken place in Mexico on everything from cockfights to soccer games, but until recently it was difficult even to play the ponies. At present, horse betting is only allowed at official booths at the racetracks in Mexico City and Tijuana. In other parts of the country, bookmakers are authorized to place odds on sporting events and a few baccarat tables and poker games have been tolerated in Mexican border cities.

For years, the tourism industry has lobbied for legalized gambling with little success, claiming it was needed to make Mexico competitive with other vacation spots that offer legal betting.

Since the election of President Vicente Fox, casino-backers have clamored to let punters contribute to the national income. Groups of U.S., Canadian and Mexican businessmen have been seeking to set up government-sanctioned casinos, which follow Vegas gaming rules.

President Fox, who is pressing congress to pass tax reforms to raise government income, sees casinos as a way to bring in more taxes and boost tourism. "I am in favor of casinos, in a controlled way, above all if they are in areas frequented by foreign tourists," Fox told reporters at a tourism convention in the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco. "That is where they should be."

According to a recent article in Mexico City's The News, "a political deal has been hammered out between the two largest trade unions and the three leading political parties to introduce casinos at Acapulco, Cancun and Baja California resorts. Later, cruise ships with roulette wheels and blackjack tables on board may be granted docking rights, enabling them to open up to high rollers as soon as the ship sets sail. These deluxe gambling vessels will eventually link 35 casinos in Mexico's top tourist spots. Five-star casinos may soon sprout up in Los Cabos, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Puebla, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, and Cozumel."

Proponents say legalizing casinos could generate some $500 million a year in tax income alone.

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