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The state of online gambling in Caribbean nations


There are plenty of remarkable casinos in the Caribbean, from the massive Atlantis Casino of The Bahamas to the 18 brick-and-mortar options in Puerto Rico alone. Less visible, but arguably more influential, is the online gaming industry. With gamblers from all over the world playing on sites hosted by companies licensed and based in the Caribbean, this is a sector not to be overlooked. Furthermore, this industry, with annual global revenue recently estimated to reach US$635 billion by the year 2022, began in the Caribbean.

Industry History Began Here

The international online gaming phenomenon launched inAntigua and Barbuda. In 1994, that country passed the Free Trade and Processing Act, which allowed for licenses to companies wishing to open online casinos. This was the same year that international online gaming was launched, as a collaboration between Microgaming software, based on the Isle of Man, providing the gaming software and platform, and CryptoLogic, the Dublin-based company providing the financial framework.

Antigua and Barbuda have since become an international leader in online gaming: several industry leaders are licensed there, including Bodog, Titan, and Sportsbook, with many such companies achieving considerable financial success, even being listed on the London Stock Exchange, and bringing major tax revenue to the small nation. In the intervening years, many other Caribbean nations have followed suit, including Curacao, St Kitts and Nevis, and Aruba.

Legality at Home and Abroad

The original Free Trade and Processing Act granted licenses for both interactive gaming, such as online casinos, and interactive wagering for sports betting. Not all countries treat these two forms of gambling equally, however. There are similar differences between regulation of land-based casino and online sites. Brick-and-mortar casinos are banned in Barbados, for example, but online gambling is not specifically regulated and exists in a legal gray area. There are other areas where regulation is unclear (sometimes left so purposefully by governments preferring to leave difficult questions unanswered), such as in the small nation of St Maarten.

Many Caribbean nations, drawn to the tax and tourist revenue provided by legal gambling but troubled by the potential for addiction and trouble for to its citizens, make distinctions between foreign nationals and their own citizens with regards to legal gambling. Online gambling licenses are granted to companies in Jamaica, for example, yet placing wagers remains illegal for Jamaican citizens. Similarly, it is illegal for Bahamians to play in any of the brick-and-mortar casinos that draw in droves of tourists. Partial limitations also exist: brick-and-mortar casinos are available to citizens in Aruba, but they are nevertheless limited to eight visits per month.

What Comes Next

Considering that not a quarter century has passed since Antigua and Barbuda first laid the groundwork for legal online gambling to take the world by storm, the pace of industry growth has been astonishing. What’s more, this has provided the region considerable muscle to flex on the world stage. That power was demonstrated in a case brought to the World Trade Organization from 2005-07, in which Antigua and Barbuda successfully brought a complaint against the United States. It was alleged that the US had violated free trade policies by limiting its citizens from playing online at sites based in Antigua and Barbuda. US$3.4 billion in trade sanctions were approved.

No one knows for sure what the future holds for the online gaming industry. It seems likely that, fueled by the smartphone revolution, mobile-based gaming will continue to flourish and grow. Much potential for that growth exists in the Caribbean, from the opening of the Cuban market to the regulation and taxation of gray markets. Challenges remain as well – serious allegations have been made regarding money laundering schemes, particularly in Aruba. No matter what comes next, though, the future of the industry will feature the Caribbean in a major role.

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