It was 6:00 p.m. on the main avenue of Las Mercedes when they turned on the neon lights of the casinos in the exclusive pink zone of Caracas, packed with restaurants and gigantic advertisements for branded purses, shoes, whiskey and watches, inviting you to enjoy each other Venezuela: a bubble that only an elite can afford to frequent.
Herminia Hernández did not want to miss the inauguration of the casino Humboldt scheduled for the flexible week of the pandemic, coinciding with the entry into force on October 1 of the new currency conversion, which consists of erasing six zeros from the bolivar to mask hyperinflation.
of a flotilla of 30 casinos that the Nicolas Maduro It has authorized to collect tax revenues, with which it hopes to reactivate the depressed national economy, in chronic crisis since the fall in oil prices in 2014 and now dollarized. Caraqueña Hernández, 69, is a fan of slot machines, although she tries not to spend more than $ 20 a day. ‘It’s just fun for me. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but I try not to go over $ 20 or $ 40. I have to control myself “, he assures ABC.
Located at 2,140 meters above sea level, the Humboldt casino lowered itself from the clouds of Cerro Ávila and moved to Las Mercedes for the repair of the ‘guayas’ (cables) of the Caracas cable car. At its new headquarters in Las Mercedes it is open from 10 am to midnight and offers 45 slot machines, blackjack tables, baccarat and roulette with electronic chips.
10 years ago the Government of Hugo Chavez decided to close all casinos and bingo halls under the assumption that they were centers of perdition and corruption that only enriched the ‘Boliburgueses’ and ‘Bolichicos’, as they call the rich Chavistas. The 2011 measure left some 100,000 people unemployed directly and indirectly, according to the Union of Bingo and Casino Workers of Venezuela. The clientele has not changed, what has changed is the economic and social environment, with 90% of the population living in poverty, according to the Encovi Survey of the Andrés Bello Catholic University.
What is surprising is the fever for the reopening of casinos decreed by Maduro. In the blink of an eye, the premises have proliferated. One of the first to premiere at full capacity was that of the Pipo de Maracay hotel (Aragua state), two hours from Caracas, on August 30. Others are already ready in Caracas (Dubai hotel, Waldorf, Conami, Tamanaco and the transfer of the casino from the Humboldt hotel to the Eurobuilding and the Mercedes); Miranda (Coliseo, Macaracuay, La Cáscara, La Urbina and Buenaventura); Nueva Esparta (Charaima, Caribe Plaza and Concorde); Lara (Tiuna, Lidotel and Jirajara); Aragua (Platinum and Ballagio, in addition to the Ciudad Jardín in the aforementioned Pipo hotel, and in Zulia (Del Sur, Maruma and Inter de Maracaibo). They will also open gambling halls in the state of Bolívar (Roraima and Guayana); Falcón (Baywasht, Tucacas ); Carabobo (Inter de Valencia); Anzoátegui (Sun Casino); Barinas (Center Llanos) and in Portuguesa (Eco Inn).
The director of Econoanalítica, Asdrúbal Oliveros, affirms that Venezuela “urgently needs to increase tax collection, since it is extremely low, 5% of GDP and in the region it is 25%.” In conversation with ABC, he points out that the reopening of casinos is a pragmatic vision of the regime to seek sources of tax collection. “I don’t think he is going to launder money with the casinos, he doesn’t need them for that. There are other cases, such as luxury construction and restaurants, where they wash and everyone knows it ».
Casinos can generate employment. Each casino employs 400 people directly and about 800 indirectly, which adds up to 1,200 jobs and if we have between 30 and 40 casinos, for 1,200 jobs, it gives a global of 48,000 jobs, and for an economy as precarious as Venezuela’s «no “The momentum of the casinos is bad,” says Oliveros, although he indicates that it will not contribute much to GDP.
No material in hospitals
The economist Jesús Casique, consulted by ABC, agrees that casinos will be an important source of job creation, although he points out that tax collection will not be significant enough to impact GDP. “From raising 250,000 million dollars in 2013, Venezuela has gone to 42,000 million in 2020 in its GDP,” adds Casique, explaining the country’s poverty. “We have two Venezuelas: one very poor and the other very rich with casinos,” says Casique.
Another contrast between these two Venezuelas is shown by Dr. Douglas León Natera, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation: “Maduro’s Chavista Administration only sponsors and boasts of good growth in the business of the still lifes, casinos of its partners and plugged into the Government, while the hospitals lack medicines and surgical supplies. “In hospitals people continue to die of decline,” says the union leader.
Economist José Guerra stresses that casinos will not drive real growth. He assures that in the second quarter of 2021, “economic activity fell 2.2% and in the first half of 2021, the decrease was 38%.”