MONTERREY, Mexico – Lawmakers in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon approved a constitutional reform that bans new casinos, becoming the first state to bar new gaming establishments, a legislative spokesman said.
“This legislative move supports the decision of the local executive branch to neutralize the increase in the granting of licenses,” Nuevo Leon state legislature constitutional affairs committee chairman Hector Garcia said.
The decision to ban new gaming establishments is part of Nuevo Leon’s security policy, Garcia said.
The reforms were approved by 38 of the 42 legislators from the four parties that have representatives in the Nuevo Leon state legislature.
Banning new casinos addresses citizens’ demands for improved public safety in the state, legislators said.
“With the reforms to Articles 23 and 132 of the state constitution, we are trying to work together on all fronts to deal with crime, prohibiting the construction of new casinos, betting parlors, lottery halls and similar establishments in an effort to restore peace” in the state, Garcia said.
The constitutional reforms were prompted by an attack staged by the Los Zetas drug cartel last year on the Casino Royale in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, that killed dozens of people.
A Zetas cartel crew sprayed 200 liters (nearly 53 gallons) of gasoline around the casino in broad daylight on Aug. 25, starting a fire that spread in 40 seconds and killed 52 people.
The attack, according to the investigation conducted by the Nuevo Leon Attorney General’s Office, was ordered by cartel bosses because the casino’s owners refused to pay up in an extortion racket.
A total of 36 people, including 18 who had a direct role, participated in the attack, the AG’s office said.
Authorities are still looking for several suspects, including Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca” and considered the top Zetas leader.
Lazcano, who deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, is considered the intellectual author of the attacks and has a bounty of 30 million pesos (about $2.2 million) on his head.
Monterrey, Mexico’s most important industrial city, and its suburbs have been battered by a wave of drug-related violence since March 2010, when three rival cartels reportedly went to war with Los Zetas.
Los Zetas has been battling an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels, known as the Nueva Federacion, for control of the Monterrey metropolitan area and smuggling routes into the United States.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.