Mexican federal law enforcement agents swooped down on three Ciudad Juárez casinos last weekend, detaining employees and placing “closed” seals on the businesses. The target of the July 28 raids was the Uno bingo and sports book chain that maintained three casinos in different sections of the border city.
Cesar Augusto Peniche Esquivel, Chihuahua state delegate for the federal attorney general’s office (PGR), told the local press that the casinos lacked the proper permits from the Interior Ministry for operating slot machines.
“Apparently, we haven’t found a permit or an expired one until now,” Peniche said.
According to the Mexican press, the PGR took action against Uno based on a June 2011 complaint filed by an apparently rival gaming business, Comercial Juegos de la Frontera, that alleged Uno had “pirated” the complainant’s permit to illegally operate slot machines. El Diario de Juárez newspaper reported that the permit charade lasted for four years.
It was not immediately clear why the PGR took more than a year to move on the complaint, much less how the alleged pirating went on for years, but El Diario added that the federal agency was probing Uno’s possible links to money laundering and organized crime.
An Internet search of Comercial Juegos de la Frontera showed a company with the same name based in the state of Mexico and administered by a Miguel Fernando del Rio Liquidano, who was also mentioned as the principal investor. In a 2007 letter to the Mexico City daily La Jornada, del Rio maintained that his company had a legal permit from the Interior Ministry, the agency responsible for regulating Mexican gaming law, to operate since 1997.
An address for a Comercial Juegos de la Frontera business in Juárez was the same as one of the Uno sites raided by the PGR, suggesting that the legal complaint could have derived from a business conflict.
At least 20 Uno employees were held and questioned for up to two days. Unidentified employees were quoted as saying that Uno did not have a central office in Ciudad Juárez, and had changed its business name. The workers claimed they did not know who owned the business. Participating in the operation against Uno, the Juarez municipal police checked casino customers for any outstanding warrants listed in the “Platform Mexico” data base.
Dozens of relatives of the detained workers gathered outside the PGR’s offices in the Pronaf district during the weekend, objecting to the detentions of their loved ones.
“We feel impotent, because the (employees) are not to blame and don’t know what is happening,” said the sister of a woman who worked as a cashier. “My sister just began working there.”
All of the detained employees were released by Monday, July 30. The owners, managers and other administrators face between three months and three years of jail for violations of Mexico’s federal gaming law. As many as 100 employees were affected by the casino closures.
Last year, following the national uproar over the deaths of 52 people killed in a fire set by an organized criminal group at a Monterrey casino that did not have adequate exits, Ciudad Juárez municipal authorities inspected the premises of the three Uno casinos but limited their investigations to potential safety violations.
Besides Uno, a variety of other gaming establishments have operations in Ciudad Juarez, though no other businesses were touched in the July 28 raids. Among others, the casinos include four businesses run by Grupo Caliente, owned by former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon, and the Emotion Casino, a slot-filled gaming joint which is located inside the popular, family-oriented Rio Grande Mall.
Emotion is associated with the Spain-based Cirsa Corporation, a transnational gaming and entertainment enterprise with outlets in Europe, South America, the Caribbean, the U.S. and across Mexico.
Despite the extreme violence that erupted in Juárez in 2008, the gaming industry continued to expand locally. Slot and slot-like machines have spread in and out of casinos, even appearing in corner grocery stores and other small businesses.
Nationwide, an estimated 100,000 slot machines operated in Mexican casinos alone by 2011. Although the country’s current gaming law technically prohibits cash slots, existing loopholes permit number draws triggered by electronic cards.
Imported tariff-free from the United States, the slots are manufactured by companies including International Game Technology, Konami, Inc., Multimedia Games, Global Draw and others.
Marketed on the Internet, the potential electronic gold mines vary in price from about $200 to $10,000. According to a story published by Milenio last year, the slots account for approximately half of all gaming revenues. An estimated 65 percent of slot customers are women, according to the report. Mexico’s casino and slot boom began in 2005, after the Fox administration issued numerous permits for new gaming establishments.
Sources: El Diario de Juarez, July 28 and 30, 2012. Articles by S. Rodriguez, D. Dominguez and editorial staff. Nortedigital.com.mx, July 30, 2012. Lapolaka.com,
July 30, 2012. Frontera/Sun, July 29, 2012. Milenio.com, September, 18, 2011 and July 30, 2012. Articles by Jose Luis Martinez. La Jornada, January 18, 2007. El Universal, August 5, 2005. Article by Arturo Zarate.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico