Uruguay Casino Workers Strike in Protest of Online Gaming

Posted on: October 13, 2022, 07:11h. 

Last updated on: October 13, 2022, 10:33h.

Uruguay is in the process of legalizing online casinos, and the brick-and-mortar segment isn’t happy. It’s convinced its workers to launch a strike today in protest of gambling expansion, although the exercise isn’t likely to alter the country’s course.

Uruguay's Congressional building, the Legislative Palace
Flags fly outside Uruguay’s Congressional building, the Legislative Palace. As the country’s lawmakers debate online gambling, land-based gambling employees are planning a strike for today. (Image: Alamy)

In a statement, the National Federation of Gambling Workers (Fenaju, for its Spanish acronym) expressed its “concern about the impact the current online gambling project will have on the health of the population.” The union, which represents around 3,500 workers, resolved to carry out a 24-hour strike to highlight its opposition.

The strike isn’t going to make a huge dent in gambling activity, but lottery players won’t be happy. The Montevideo Portal explains that it will force the cancellation of several draws.

Do it Our Way

On Wednesday, union representatives appeared before the Budget Committee of the Chamber of Deputies. They voiced their concerns about online gambling, bringing up the same arguments other regions have used in trying to stop expansion.

Fenaju boss Leonel Revelese spoke with Montevideo Portal and stated that the union isn’t necessarily opposed to online gambling, but doesn’t support the way Uruguay is addressing the potential market. The union believes that gaming revenue will decrease with the arrival of online gaming. It also asserted that online casinos are more attractive for money laundering.

There’s no evidence from markets in which land-based and online gaming coexist to believe that revenue will decrease. On the contrary, there is more evidence supporting a strong symbiotic relationship between the two that allows both to thrive.

Multiple studies have shown that, in general, the online casino customer was never a brick-and-mortar customer. Therefore, the online segment doesn’t cannibalize the retail market.

In addition, online casinos don’t invite money laundering. The current state of Australia’s casino industry with Crown Resorts and Star Entertainment, as well as issues in Canada and Las Vegas, supports this.

In turn, Revelese referred to the possibility of increasing cases of problem gambling with the legalization of online gambling. He said his position is based on the experiences of some European countries, though there are no studies that support those findings.

For example, the UK has both brick-and-mortar and online gambling, and the level of problem gambling has decreased. The same can be said for Spain, where online gaming has been one of the most successful eCommerce activities.

Uruguay Not Backing Down

In Wednesday’s meeting, specialists from the executive branch were present to defend the measure. As it prepares to move forward, Uruguay has blocked 1,525 online betting sites that operate from abroad.

The head of the Directorate General of Casinos, Gustavo Anselmi, brought official figures on gambling in the country to shed light on the problem. He pointed to evidence that shows online gambling platforms in other countries, like Argentina, perform well, but are not overtaking the industry.

Anselmi recognizes the value of expanding into the online market and doesn’t anticipate a move backward. He also has his take on the virtues of gambling.

“Gambling is a disease and must be treated by public health,” Anselmi told the Commission. He cited a report from Uruguay’s Hospital de Clínicas, that indicates about 100 people were treated for gambling in 2021.

A year earlier, there were 78 cases. Even at 100, that’s less than 0.00003% of Uruguay’s population of 3.46 million. Still, because it’s at the forefront of all gambling discussions now, Uruguay would need to address potential problem gambling even if didn’t legalize online casinos.