Colombia begins debate on gambling tax increases

The Senate of Colombia (upper house) has confirmed that tax measures on online gambling will be reviewed to support the government’s plans to overhaul the nation’s public welfare and healthcare systems. 

Debates are scheduled to begin this week on Friday, February 16, led by Senator Antonio Correa of Partido de la Union.

In 2016, Colombia modernised its Gambling Act (2001) by approving new laws to govern online gambling products and services, becoming the first South American nation to launch a regulated and taxed online gambling regime in 2017, open to foreign and domestic businesses.

Senators will review Colombia’s current tax framework for online gambling, which charges a 15% GGR rate on licensed operators who maintain a return-to-player (RTP) of 83% of total stakes. A 17% GGR rate is charged on operators who register an RTP above 83%.

The overhaul of Colombia’s public welfare and healthcare systems is recognised as the principal mandate of President Gustavo Petro. Taking office in 2023, Petro had several high-profile clashes with government departments and senior civil servants, including with the leadership of Coljuegos, Colombia’s federal gambling authority.

The President’s office was accused of bypassing congressional procedures to approve its sweeping reforms for welfare and healthcare, while allegedly neglecting the needs of other public services.

Among detractors was former Coljuegos President Roger Carrillo Ocampo, who resigned from the authority and was later replaced by Marco Emilio Hincapié Ramírez.

Coljuegos’s annual financial report up to October 2023 declared tax takings of COL $750bn (€166m), designated to public health projects as the regulator’s primary social directive.

As deliberations are set to begin this week, the Senate revealed that at present no party had submitted a proposal outlining new tax percentages to be levied on online gambling operators.

Initiating the debate, Senator Antonio Correa cited that online gambling was simply earmarked as a business sector whose taxes would be reviewed to reduce the deficit in public health.

Correa noted that the Senate understood sensitivities related to increasing the tax burden on online gambling, as the market’s leading operators have provided vital income to Colombian sports leagues and media.  

However the Senator stated that 2024 was a critical year, in which the government must form a new strategy and settle its finances and funding to solve Colombia’s public health and welfare crisis.