Despite a court injunction signed to safeguard the employment of workers in the five bingo halls in the City of Buenos Aires the National Lottery has said in a statement that it will go ahead with the closures and that the bingo halls closed for good on May 5.
Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires Horacio Rodriguez Larreta will now in all likelihood pursue the owners in the courts to ensure payment of a total of $250m pesos in unpaid licence fees.
The news comes after it was announced that city judge Federal Judge Esteban Furnari had signed a last minute court order which would have prevented the National Lottery from making a decision on the issue of bingo halls in the city as it would have affected the rights of around 500 bingo halls workers.
The closures have led to an increasingly acrimonious battle between the government and bingo halls owners who claim that the government has sought to protect the monopoly of a small number of operators in the city who they say have a stranglehold over the local gaming industry.
In a signed letter bingo halls owners accused the National Lottery of pandering to the interests of the owners of the racino in Palermo and the floating casinos moored permanently to the city harbour. “Once again a measure taken by the government will benefit the same operators who have enjoyed a complete monopoly over gaming over the last 12 years,” they said.
The owners of the bingo halls, Nazareno Lacquaniti ( owner of the bingo halls in the neighbourhood of Congreso, Flores, Belgrano and on Lavalle Street in downtown Buenos Aires) and Norberto Vicente (in the neighbourhood of Caballito), will now not only have to face costs for unpaid licence fees but will also need to provide redundancy pay to 500 workers which could add up to a further $50m – a sum which they say they do not have.
The conflict over the future of the bingo halls dates back to 2009. In 2009, bingo hall owners began to delay licence fee payments arguing that their businesses were losing money and asked the government to grant them the right to house slot machines on their premises – a request that was denied. The two “floating casinos” docked permanently to the harbour and the racino located in the neighbourhood of Palermo downtown all house slot machines as do bingo halls in the province of Buenos Aires.
The conflict comes at a time when major changes look likely. With President Mauricio Macri’s party now in charge of both the city and executive branch major changes could be on the way to how gaming is managed in the capital as the government seeks to regulate the industry more closely.