The Mexican state is trumped by the power of some casinos operating on the margin of the law. At least that’s the conclusion of two Mexican congressmen after hearing testimony from the Pena Nieto administration’s official in charge of regulating gaming.
Members of the Chamber of Deputies’ Special Commission on Casinos shared their views with the press after meeting last week with Marcela Gonzalez Salas, director of gaming and raffles for the Interior Ministry.
Congressman Agustin Barrios Gomez of the Party of the Democratic Revolution said commission members were informed that the Interior Ministry lacks both the staff and necessary muscle to shut down illegal casinos, especially in the northeastern border region across from Texas where organized criminal groups hold sway.
“If you are going to close a casino in Coahuila, Tamaulipas or Nuevo Leon, you arrive with an Apache helicopter, a sharpshooter and all the force of the state,” Barrios said. “You can’t leave defenseless the person who represents the Mexican state.”
Reportedly, the personnel available for casino inspections have been reduced from 200 to 41, because the majority of inspectors flunked security exams. Barrios claimed there were more officials to inspect restaurants in the upscale Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City than to enforce gaming regulations in the entire country. The Citizen Movement Party’s Ricardo Mejia Berdeja, casino commission president, supported his colleague’s account of Gonzalez’s report to legislators.
Gonzalez earlier told journalists that the Pena Nieto administration encountered great disorder in the files pertaining to casino permits after assuming office last December. Since then, the Interior Ministry has worked to organize the information, Gonzalez said.
“We have more order than when we received them,” the Mexican official added.
The latest flurry of congressional attention on casinos came at a moment of growing pressure from the Mexican gaming industry as well as state officials to close illegal casinos while allowing an expansion of legal ones. Talk is resurfacing of reforming Mexico’s gaming law, which dates back to 1947.
The Interior Ministry estimates 349 casinos are in operation nationwide. Recent numbers from the Aieja national gaming industry trade association reported that Mexican casinos hosted 2.2 million visitors in 2012, with the number expected to surpass 3 million in 2013.
For Congressman Barrios, the casino security situation is part of a bigger issue confronting the country. “Basically, the problem is that the law that prevails in certain parts of Mexico is the law of organized crime, not the Mexican state,” he said. “That’s the complaint.”
Barrio’s take on the national security panorama dovetailed with views recently expressed by the chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
On an April visit to Mexico, Antonio Luigi Mazzitelli told the Spanish daily El Pais that organized criminal bands are evolving from drug trafficking organizations to more diversified ones dedicated to territorial control, extortion, kidnapping, and other activities.
In the aftermath of the August 2011 arson that left 53 people dead at the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, owner Raul Rocha Cantu blamed the Zetas crime syndicate for attempting to shake him down for tens of thousands of dollars prior to the attack.
“Indications exist that the Mexican (drug) route is not important now,” Mazzitelli said, pointing to a smuggling shift away from disputed Mexican territories to the old Caribbean corridor. The U.N. official said the international agency does not have an office in Tamaulipas due to the dangerous situation in the northern state. Mazzitelli contended that organized crime has emerged as a “counter-power” to the state.
As if to underscore the remarks made by Barrios and Mazzitelli, the Zetas once again reportedly sponsored a series of Children’s Day events in the Tamaulipas cities of Ciudad Victoria, Mante, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo this month. Staged by “Children without Hunger,” a company with a logo like the one made famous by Apple computer company, the activities featured music, clowns, games and toy giveaways.
Narco-banners displayed across Tamaulipas and signed by “Los Z” coincided with Children’s Day, criticizing politicians and hailing the upcoming generation.
“Let God bless and always guide all of them to the correct road they should follow to become good men and women,” read one banner.
Sources: El Universal, May 8, 14 and 17, 2013. Articles by Juan Arvizu Arrioja, Ricardo Gomez and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, April 3, 2013. El Diario de Juarez/Agencia Reforma, April 3, 2013. La Jornada, September 9, 2011. Article by Alfredo Mendez. Excelsior, August 26, 2011.