Puerto Rico Starts New Year with New Law to Ease Restrictions on Online Sports Betting

As one of her final acts in office, Puerto Rico’s outgoing Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced signed Senate Bill 1534, which amended the country’s existing gambling laws to clear the way for online sports betting.

Wanda Vázquez Garced
Prior to leaving office Puerto Rico’s outgoing Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced signed Senate Bill 1534 which amends the US territory’s existing gambling laws to, among other things, make it easier to register online. The regulation of online sports gambling has been stalled due to regime changes and government agency shifts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: Getty)

Though the new law’s language is not specific, it seeks to allow job creation in the gaming sector and clears the way to “create new sources of revenue” with gambling.

The new law will also free up online gambling registrants, amending the in-person registration mandate to in-person only if the individual doesn’t have the option to register online.

Online Gambling in Puerto Rico Lifted Out of Limbo

José Maymó Azize, executive director of the Puerto Rico Gaming Commission, interpreted the new bill as a significant upgrade to the existing gambling laws in the US territory and said it should effectively jump-start the process of sportsbooks opening in Puerto Rico in 2021.

Vázquez Garced sought to push the bill through as regulation and launch of online gambling has stalled since she took office in the summer of 2019 after the abrupt resignation of Gov. Ricardo Roselló amidst a scandal.

Before leaving, Roselló signed the Betting Committee Act in July 2019 to authorize online sports gambling, among other betting-related activities. But Roselló’s abrupt resignation, followed the departure of Jaime Alex Irizarry, the director of Puerto Rico’s Tourism Board, amidst the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last April put the law in limbo.

Puerto Rico’s new Governor Pedro Pierluisi has not yet commented on the new law but indicated before taking office on Jan. 2 that regulating and launching online gambling was a priority.

Puerto Rico Wants Regulations Congruous with the Island’s Culture

Last May, Omar J. Marrero Díaz, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF), said Gaming Laboratories International (GLI), an independent testing and cybersecurity firm that specializes in online gambling, was hired to draft regulations and act as a consultant to help get sports betting launched.

Once live, initial AAFAF projections showed the island would take in some $87 million from online gambling in the first five years of operation. While it is tempting to emulate the recent online gambling explosion in individual US states, officials said they emphasize Puerto Rico’s regulations should be harmonious with the island’s culture.

“[We must ensure] the regulations product of this process are in harmony with the public policy of promoting innovation as well as the economic development of Puerto Rico by responsibly adopting sports betting, electronic games and fantasy contests,” Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel A. Laboy Rivera said.

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