Broward News

Jai Alai Owner Faces Investigations in Argentina, Brazil

When the ribbon was snipped on the brand-spanking-new Dania Casino and Jai Alai in February, one of the biggest grins beaming during the ceremony belonged to Cristóbal López.

The Argentine businessman had already cobbled together an impressive international portfolio of 29 big-money businesses, from waste management companies to oil refineries to casinos in his home country. But López's 75 percent stake in the $85 million Dania face-lift marked his first crack into the U.S. market.

But all is not well with the Dania owner back on the home front. According to a number of reports coming out of Argentina, López's casinos are in the middle of an investigation into that country's gaming industry. It's not the first time López's business deals have been targeted for scrutiny.

López is a controversial figure in Argentina, largely thanks to his ties to ruling elites. He was close with Néstor Kirchner, the country's late former president, and reportedly remains allied with the late leader's wife, current Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. According to the International Business Times, the former president helped López enter gaming with slot machines at a Buenos Aires racetrack. Just days before Kirchner left office in 2007, he handed López a cushy extension to operate slots until 2032. The businessman is known in Argentina as the "Casino Czar."

But according to La Nación, Argentina's leading daily, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán announced in April he was investigating a complaint filed in court that alleged collusion between López's casinos and the National Lottery, the branch tasked with watchdogging the industry.

The complaint alleges that two López-owned properties — Casino Flotante and Hipódromo de Palermo — misreported slot machine winnings, potentially cheating the government out of its share. Investigators are demanding documentation from both the casinos and the National Lottery to determine a possible link.

April was a cruel month for López. He also faced scrutiny in Brazil, where federal police announced they were opening an investigation into López's 2010 purchase of a San Lorenzo oil refinery from Petrobras, Brazil's national energy company. According to La Nación, investigators want to know why López was allowed to purchase the property for $36 million — 28 percent less than its original value.

Calls for comment to the casino and to Dania Beach Mayor Walter Duke were not returned.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson