COVID-19 Hits Paraguay As It Contemplates Recovery

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to influence the gaming agenda for Latin America, with Health Minister Julio Mazzoleni of Paraguay ordering the immediate closure of casinos, bingo halls and betting shops until the end of March.

The outbreak of dengue fever in the Southern hemisphere has been another contributing factor in the closures.

The industry thus faces a significant economic loss, with leaders already evaluating various recovery strategies. Former president of the National Commission of Games of Chance (Conajzar) of Paraguay, Javier Balbuena, and new advisor to the Chamber of Deputies, said: “because of the current circumstances, these should continue being carried out according to the type of segment and the level of social commitment of the companies.”

He went on: “Many companies will face negative finances due to the lack of cash flow during the suspension period. This means that they won’t be able to fulfill their monthly financial responsibilities such as wage payments, rent, and the fees for the exploitation of games of chance, among other things. Thus, industry representatives are seeking solutions for this unprecedented situation.”

When asked if the industry and government are working together to examine potential benefits that could aid in a financial crisis Balbuena answered: “I’m unaware of such a thing. However, I can say that in the consulting firm I own we have received requests for advice on the matter, as well as requests for the development of strategies to discuss this situation.

“Many of the companies in the industry have licenses that require them to make investments in hotels. Therefore, they have a lot of employees and officials that depend on the casinos. These companies must develop strategies and share them with the authorities to understand the situation. Furthermore, they must come up with an economic plan that grants extensions or fees payment plans in order to prioritise wages.”

Regarding how Conajzar’s activities would affect the situation in the long run, he noted: “I believe that Conajzar, and many other institutions, have to be aware of the times we live in. Along with the private industry, it must come up with short and medium-term plans that contribute to the sustainability of the sector. I don’t believe that this affects their regulatory functions, they should take advantage of the legal authority granted by the Law 1016/97.”

As for the future of online gaming, Balbuena commented: “The closure of gaming and betting shops could boost the number of customers in the online market. The unofficial data that I accessed thanks to online gaming licensees shows a considerable level of growth in customer interaction and number of bets since the suspension kicked in.”

Qualifying that argument, he added that online gambling could mitigate the worst effects of a crisis that threatens to impact those operating in the land-based sector without having to resort to a parallel online service.