Mexican Senator-elect José JuliÃ¡n Sacramento Garza of Matamoros said his party wants to expand laws allowing slot-machine casinos in Mexico that could create a potential tourism boom along the Texas-Mexico border.
But expanding the casino industry means the Mexican government needs to make sure drug cartels stay far away and tourists’ safety is guaranteed, Sacramento said last week.
"Any problems we have along the border will be reflected along both sides," Sacramento said.
As a whole, Sacramento’s National Action Party — which has a strong showing in the Mexican Congress and tentative control of the presidency following Felipe Calderon’s unofficial victory July 2 — believes it should be easier for businesses to obtain licenses to create slot-machine casinos.
It has been difficult for anyone not connected with an elected official to get a casino license, he said.
"When I was running for office, the people wanted — no they demanded — that (gambling) be legalized," he said.
Table gambling, including blackjack, poker and roulette, are illegal in Mexico, but slot machines that use credit systems are legal with approval from the government.
There are already several casinos throughout Tamaulipas, including one that a Harlingen businessman and Mexican lawyer recently opened in Nuevo Progreso.
Sacramento said the gambling industry simply needs solid checks, balances and security measures.
"The problems with the border are with the drug cartels," he said. "The most important thing is (casino regulators) will be able to scrutinize the money."
Protecting tourists is a key priority, he said.
"We worry very much about the violence," Sacramento said. "What (PAN) wants to do is be able to invest in roads and police for security."
If run well, the Mexican gambling industry could provide an economic boon to the region and attract tourists like many other border regions already do.
James Vann, who co-owns the Viva Las Vegas casino in Nuevo Progreso, said he had to "jump through hoops" to get the license to run the casino. But since it opened, Vann said the casino draws between 400 and 800 people a day.
"We’ve doubled in business every week," Vann said. "This morning there were 83 people lined up at 10 a.m. to get in the casino."