Poker Still Finding Its Footing in Latin America

20 October 2008

Latin America is sure to be an important gambling jurisdiction, but it has a lot of growing and learning to do before it can truly compete for attention in the global poker market, according to David Carrion of Cirsa Gaming Corporation.

"Latin America is an emerging market right now," said Mr. Carrion, who is Cirsa's corporate table games and poker manager. "It's still a very small portion of the pie, mainly because of the local currencies and their value against the dollar and the euro. But it's really a big market in terms of population, casinos and countries."

South America, specifically, is rich with casinos as approximately 177 dot the continent. Mr. Carrion said casino patrons in South America are more of a casual breed than in other cultures.

"Culturally speaking, in my opinion, there is a difference between the player in South America and players in other markets," he said. "It's more of a compulsive player (in South America), meaning that they really go out to have fun when they go to the casinos."

And in terms of poker, all the mechanisms that are working in Europe or the United States are still in their early stages in South America, he added.

PokerStars in March announced the launch of the Latin American Poker Tour --riding what it deemed an "exploding" poker trend in Latin America -- confident it would attract players based in Latin American countries.

However, Mr. Carrion said that Internet penetration (broadly) and online poker (specifically) have not meaningfully reached South America, other than in Argentina and Brazil -- the continent's two largest countries.

"PokerStars is now doing the Latin American Poker Tour and they're actually getting a lot of online qualifying players, but they're all from the United States," he said. "They're not South American players."

Poker is still a relatively immature game in the region. And the reason for that, according to Mr. Carrion, is because online poker is not widely available.

Nonetheless, South American poker players are pretty much the same as other poker players, Mr. Carrion said.

"A poker player is a poker player," he said. "They want to make money. They are an informed player and customer. They know what they want and they're in for business -- they're not in it for the fun."

Poker tournaments in South America, however, are unusual, with low buy-ins, fast-paced rounds and re-registration allowed.

"In South America you will find a lot of tournaments where if you bust you can re-buy in again and probably an unlimited number of times within a few hours," Mr. Carrion said. "The reason for that is that players really like action. They just want to get everything played within the first hour, and if they bust they want to do it all over again."

This type of tournament is not unique to South America, but the difference is that in South America this type of tournament is the norm.

Mr. Carrion, who is based in Spain but has been visiting South America for over 10 years, said poker tournaments in the region are highly disorganized, but he is seeing the game slowly make its way into the casinos -- just not in the proper way in most cases.

"It's still growing," Mr. Carrion said. "It's still getting there. There are some countries where it's done better than others and there are countries where it's already established and it's just part of the offer."

Ultimately, to grow poker and poker tournaments in South America, Mr. Carrion said it's up to the casinos to get organized.

"Players need to be educated," he said. "Casinos need to a lot of things to bring poker to the people, like free lessons, free tournaments, free rolls and all these kinds of events so people can actually get close to poker because you will find in most casinos that you will have 20 or 30 of the same people that play poker in a casino every day."

See Mr. Carrion discuss this topic in-depth Oct. 29 at World Poker Congress in Budapest, Hungary.

Related Links
World Poker Congress (WPC) 2008

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.