As one of the most successful economies in South America, Colombia moves to protect its citizens and collect its share.

In advance of the formulation of new laws that will permit online gaming, the Colombian gaming regulator Coljuegos has issued a strong warning to unlicensed operators offering online gambling in the South American country.

gamblingAll online gambling is asserted to be illegal, and Rodrigo Vélez Jara, President of Coljuegos, is advising Colombian citizens that they have no legal protection while playing and can have no confidence in the fairness of the games.

He asks citizens to report unlicensed online operators so that they can be prosecuted.

Operators found to be in breach of the law face fines and can be banned from offering gambling services in Colombia for up to five years.

However, major online operators continue to provide online poker to Colombian residents and have faced no significant legal challenges to date. In spite of Coljuegos’ exhortations, operators can contend that current Colombian law does not make online poker illegal: it is not covered by the law, rather than explicitly against the law.

Last fall the government announced that it had tasked Coljuegos to develop a regulatory framework that would support a new law to license online gaming. Poker is legal in licensed casinos, and is considered to be a game of chance under Colombian legal definitions.

The Colombian constitution mandates that income from state monopolies such as the regulation of gambling must be used to fund health care. According to Sr Velez, unlicensed offshore operators are: “…operating outside the law and undermining the funding of public health services in Colombia.”

He added that “in the future, online games will be included in the portfolio of betting options available to Colombian consumers.”

Coljuegos was established in November 2011 to replace the previous regulator ETESA that had been given much more power than its predecessor ECOSALUD S.A and was expected to generate much higher revenues.

ECOSALUD S.A was disbanded in 2001 after it proved ineffective, massively overstaffed and corrupt.

ETESA was able to increase revenues to $148m, which accounted for 2% of the national health budget. However, Coljuegos is expected to increase that amount by a factor of five, a task that implies the addition of new revenue streams from licensed online gaming.