Jamaica is an island country that is situated in the Caribbean Sea and is the third-largest island in the Caribbean and the Greater Antilles. The island was under Spanish rule between 1494 and 1655, with the British then conquering the country and ruling over Jamaica up until 1962 when it regained its independence.
When it comes to gambling, it could be said that Jamaica has a long history with this type of activity. Originally, gambling was deemed illegal in Jamaica with the enactments of the Gambling Law of 1899. However, this was during the period when the island country was under British rule. Since then, the country has introduced several amendments to its laws, changing the legal status of gambling after Jamaica regained its independence.
Online gambling is also legal in Jamaica, however, it is offered in a very restrictive form, with only horse racing wagers on local races being allowed to be made online. Both land-based and online gambling are regulated in the country, with the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Commission being responsible for licensing and governing gambling on the island.
Even though the government is planning to introduce some amendments to the Casino Gaming Act, they will most likely focus on attracting more investments to Jamaica through developments in integrated resorts. Meanwhile, online casino gaming will most likely remain something that will be available only on offshore unlicensed websites.
History of Gambling in Jamaica
During the period of Jamaica being under British rule, gambling was banned under the Gambling Law that was enacted in 1899. This law was extremely harsh and imposed several restrictions on odds. Under the Gambling Law, cock-fighting was considered illegal and Jamaican punters were not allowed to make bets at any public space. The same law also required that any wagering contract must result either in a win or a loss, with no chance of such contract ending with a tie.
At that time, the only form of gambling that was permitted was playing on slots. That said, slot machines were allowed to operate only in specific resorts that have received permission for such operations. Even though slots were the only legal gambling activity back then, games like blackjack, craps, video poker, and Caribbean Stud Poker started appearing on the gambling scene in Jamaica, with no prosecutions for players participating in them.
In 1962, Jamaica regained its independence, with the country then introducing several changes to its legislative system. Gambling in Jamaica was legalized in 1965 with the enactment of the Betting Gaming & Lotteries Act. The law has been amended several times to fit the constantly evolving gambling environment in Jamaica.
In 1975, the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Commission was created as a representative body of the Ministry of Finance. The purpose of the establishment of this authority was to license and regulate gambling activities in Jamaica.
In 2010, the government of Jamaica finally decided to amend the gambling laws and the Casino Gaming bill was introduced. Under that law, casino licenses could be issued to up to three operators, with the proviso that the casinos are a part of resort complexes that combine different tourism facilities and services. In 2012, the Senate passed new regulations to aid the licensing process of casinos that will operate in the approved integrated resorts.
In 2014, the government introduced several amendments to the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act, aiming to regulate online gambling in Jamaica. Under this law, it is legal to place bets on horse races, including simulcast horse races. Online casinos, however, are still not legalized in Jamaica despite some talks in 2017 to amend the law and legalize more forms of online gambling.
In 2015, the Jamaican government approved two integrated resort projects that are supposed to also operate land-based casinos. The first one is the Celebration Jamaica Resort & Casino which is planned to start its operations in Montego Bay. The other approved project is Harmony Cove which will be located in Trelawny. However, at the time of writing this article, the two projects still have not been completed and the two approved land-based casinos are still not realized.
In 2021, the Jamaican government was considering some amendments to the current Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act. These changes, however, were mainly facilitating investments in the gambling industry of the country, helping the development of the local economy. Meanwhile, there are no signs of changing the legal status of online gaming in the country any time soon.
Gambling Regulation in Jamaica
The main piece of legislation that is currently regulating the gambling industry in Jamaica is the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act of 2012 and its latest amendments. Under this law, land-based gambling is legal in Jamaica, allowing both locals and tourists to participate in different gambling activities at the brick-and-mortar casino facilities spread across the island.
In addition to land-based casinos, Jamaica has also decriminalized the operations of racinos, racetracks, and betting shops. Under the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act, the legal age for gambling in Jamaica is 18 years. To offer any type of legal gambling, operators in Jamaica are required to obtain a license from the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Commission. Currently, there are 22 gaming facilities in Jamaica, with 20 of them being brick-and-mortar casinos and the remaining two include a racetrack and a racino.
Gambling Regulators and Licenses in Jamaica
While the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act was enacted in 1965, it was not until 1975 that the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Commission (BGLC) was established. The BGLC’s responsibilities include licensing and regulation of all gambling activities that have been legalized under the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act. The BGLC is a regulatory body of the Ministry of Finance and as such, it is appointed with the task of regulating betting, gaming, and lotteries in Jamaica. The BGLC also deals with the collection of fees and taxes imposed on license holders.
The types of licenses issued to gaming operators by the BGLC include the categories Gaming Lounges, Gaming Machine Premises Operators, Hotel Based Gaming Rooms, and Technical Service Providers. The BGLC can also issue lottery licenses, bookmaker permits, licenses for conducting prize competitions, permission to hold a bingo or raffle.
A BGLC license period begins on 31 March of every year and the taxes levied on license holders’ operations must be paid either on or before that period. Fees are paid directly to the Commission’s office or the BGLC’s bank account.
While the regulation of horse racing betting also falls under the remit of the BGLC, this form of gambling is also regulated by the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC), which was established through the Racing Commission Act of 1972. The JRC makes sure that horse races in Jamaica are conducted fairly, with the Commission also offering protection to all racing parties involved.
Gambling Taxes in Jamaica
When it comes to taxes levied on winnings generated through gambling, Jamaicans are only required to pay a 20% tax if they win more than $15,000 on a lottery game. This type of tax is usually deducted from the amount of the win by the gambling company so players are not required to pay any taxes after they get their winnings.
As for the taxes that gambling operators are required to pay, the tax rate may differ according to the type of activity the company conducts. According to the latest changes in the Licensing Fees and GOJ Taxes in 2018, the tax levied on casino operations is 10% of the gross profits that have been generated through the operations of all land-based gambling facilities.
There are several exceptions as certain activities require operators to pay different taxes. Bookmakers, including those allowed to operate online, are required to pay a tax of 16.5% on gross profits. As for all other types of sports betting, the tax rate that is levied is 9% of the gross profits. Lastly, racing promoters and operators offering simulcast racing are required to pay a tax of 7.5% of their gross profits.
Jamaica is not the first Caribbean country to legalize gambling but it has made sure that both tourists and locals can legally enjoy various forms of gambling. This, however, is mostly true only for the land-based part of the industry as online gambling is still mainly unregulated in Jamaica.
The proper regulation of land-based casinos began in 2010 with the introduction of the Casino Gaming Act. Prior to that, gambling was legalized in 1965 with the enactment of the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act which has gone through several amendments since then. Currently, the 2012 amended variant of this piece of legislation is the law that governs all gambling activities in Jamaica.
While in 2014, online horse racing on limited horse races was allowed, all other forms of online gambling are still not regulated in Jamaica. Although there were talks of introducing changes to the current form of the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Act, the government still has not introduced law amendments that will regulate online gambling in the country. Despite the lack of regulations, however, many Jamaicans resort to offshore gaming websites to enjoy online casino wagerinf, lotteries, and sports betting.