August 26: President Felipe Calderón and others honor the 52 dead after the casino arson in Monterrey, Mexico. (AP Hans-Maximo Musielik).AP
A makeshift memorial of funeral wreaths line the circular driveway of the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, Saturday Aug, 27, 2011. A surveillance tape showed eight or nine men arriving in four cars Thursday at the gambling house and setting fire to the building; trapping dozens of people inside and killing at least 52 people, mostly women. (AP Photo/Hans-Maximo Musielik)AP 2011
Policía presenta a los cinco supuestos miembros del cartel de Los Zetas que participaron la semana pasada en el ataque al casino Royale. Monterrey, México, martes 30 de agosto de 2011. (AP foto/Hans-Maximo Musielik)AP
Mexico City – Mexican authorities have inspected hundreds of casinos nationwide in recent days after 52 people were killed in an arson attack last week at a gambling house in the northern industrial city of Monterrey.
The first to take action was the Guadalajara municipal government, which last weekend closed five of the 10 casinos in Mexico's second-largest city after finding they lacked adequate security measures.
Elsewhere, authorities in the leading Mexican international tourism resort of Cancun shut down the Playboy casino, a 1,200-sq.-meter (12,900-sq.-foot) establishment in the hotel zone that Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner founded last December.
Last weekend, Mexico's SAT internal-revenue service also confiscated more than 3,500 gambling machines in Nuevo Leon state, whose capital is Monterrey.
Meanwhile, Mexico City's government on Monday ordered inspections of 17 casinos in that metropolis and suspended a gambling house owned by Spanish firm Codere because it lacked dry chemical powder fire extinguishers and emergency exits leading to safe areas.
Authorities in the Mexican capital said in a statement they will inspect all casinos and gambling establishments, which must show "proper and updated land-use documents," as well as proof that the size of the facility matches what is indicated on their permits.
The overall goal of the nationwide inspections following the arson attack on Monterrey's Casino Royale is to verify that the establishments have emergency doors, signs indicating evacuation routes, fully charged fire extinguishers, evacuation diagrams and valid operating permits.
Mexico's federal interior ministry is responsible for issuing operating permits for casinos, but those establishments must comply with local civil-protection regulations.
Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina said Tuesday at a press conference, in which five suspects in the Monterrey massacre were paraded before the media, that it is "very important to use this tragic event as an opportunity to once and for all" impose order on the casino industry.
He said that some of these gambling establishments were only open after receiving court injunctions, that "many corporations" are involved in their operation and that operating permits changed hands without any oversight.
Such was the case of Casino Royale, which was open thanks to a court order and - according to some survivors of the arson attack, attributed by authorities to the Los Zetas criminal organization - had some false emergency doors leading to a wall.
Medina therefore called on the federal government to verify the permits of casinos operating in Nuevo Leon to determine if they are functioning legally and who their owners are and to shut them down if necessary.
The suspects in last Thursday afternoon's attack told investigators they were scolded by their bosses for killing so many people at the casino, which was the target of an extortion racket common in several parts of Mexico, officials said.
Investigators have obtained videos showing the suspects filling containers at a service station with the gasoline they later used to torch the casino, as well as other images from security cameras that show the suspects' vehicles arriving at Casino Royale, Nuevo Leon Attorney General Adrian Emilio de la Garza said Tuesday.
Monterrey 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.
A total of 267 murders were registered in Monterrey in 2009, with the figure rising to 828 in 2010 and more than 1,100 so far this year, according to official figures.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in Mexico, including the August 2010 killings of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Central America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
The cartel is also suspected of being behind the killings of 183 people whose remains were found in 40 mass graves in Tamaulipas in the spring.