The regulated casino industry in Chile, based on a casino resort model, is engaged in an ongoing battle with unregulated slot parlours, dubbed ‘popular casinos’, with an estimated 33,000 illegal machines operating throughout the country. Sun Dreams’ Mariela Huenchumilla explains the company’s efforts to delineate the nation’s legal industry.
As head of Responsible Gaming for Sun Dreams, Mariela Huenchumilla, has been a pioneer in the field, developing a framework now utilised in all the company’s Chilean venues. In an exclusive interview, she explains that responsible gaming is more than a political gesture, but rather a struggle to define the shape of the national sector, ensuring gaming is sustainable both for operators and patrons alike.
Could you give us a brief summary of your role in developing a responsible gaming framework for Dreams?
I started to study responsible gaming – which was at that time unknown in Chile – beginning in 2009. At that time, there was no information available, so my first approaches were through information I found on the internet.
Later I contacted Enrique Echeburrua, a psychologist and specialist in pathological gambling, who referred me to Julio Angel Brizuela, an Argentine psychiatrist who is an expert on the subject and who acted as my mentor for two and a half years.
After that, I met Dr. Daniel Martínez, another psychiatrist specialising in addictions in Chile; the group, Gamblers in Therapy (AJUTER) and other stakeholders, who kindly invited me to be part of their round table.
Arising from this, we formed the Corporation for Responsible Gambling in December 2014, with the aim of promoting best practice in games of chance, and I’ve served as president since its inauguration.
Throughout this process, I have had the firm support of the company and its CEO, Jaime Wilhelm, who has pushed me to look at what’s working in other countries and to generate joint initiatives with world-class experts.
I have developed a comprehensive program for Sun Dreams’ casinos based on the prevention of unhealthy gambling behavior patterns, promoting a healthy relationship with gaming and establishing an intervention protocol for at-risk customers.
Sun Dreams are pioneers in establishing this internal policy, which has differentiated us in the industry and we have seen positive results arising from this.
Our aim is that our clients understand the limits of gaming, since our country still lacks strategic coordination between the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, regional governors and mayors, towards creating preventive policies.
It is important to seek a balance between the two poles of regulation and self-regulation, to generate public confidence and contribute to social benefit.
You’ve previously mentioned that Chilean casinos can only prohibit entry under specific criteria defined in law 19.995, article 9. How has this obstructed the implementation of a self-exclusion policy?
It is important to clarify that Chile currently has a policy of self-exclusion, established in SCJ Circular No. 44, which has applied to all regulated casinos since December 2013.
This measure allows people suffering from a gambling problem to request to be prohibited entry to casino.
However, while casinos must ensure that this is implemented, it is a limited resource for operators and remains a work in progress, so long as the power to prohibit entry is not set out in law.
Chile wasted a valuable opportunity to advance responsible gaming when, in 2015, parliamentarians reviewed the gaming law No. 19,995, and amended it in the new law No 20,856, without introducing any new policies and the state must improve in this area.
Is the regulation of slot machines outside casinos desirable and would such a measure help protect people from vulnerable sectors or is it better that Chile maintains its current legislation that limits gaming to integrated resorts?
Illegal gambling in ‘popular casinos’ is a ongoing issue for the regulated casino industry, mainly because of its influence on pathological gambling. Since it is unregulated, players have no rights, there is no charge for access – unlike Chile’s regulated casinos which are obliged to charge an entry ticket, the percentage of return on the machines is unknown, nor is there any bar to underage players.
Meanwhile, the regulated casino industry has unceasingly promoted preventive work through training and providing guidance and education for our clients, as well as serious and discreet support for those who request assistance, and implementing self-exclusion systems. These practices are impossible to replicate in unregulated game spaces.
Against this panorama, our position is that illegal gambling must be eradicated and the authorities should oversee the closure of this harmful trade which operates on the margins of the law.