Gambling is illegal in Brazil, but that doesn't stop Brazilians from gambling. This article presents the common gambling practices in Brazil, and the legal or illegal aspects contained in them.
In Brazil the exploitation of gambling and games of chance was old, derived from the first years of the Brazilian Empire. Although, over the centuries, those practices were forbidden and allowed many times by the government.
The explanations were always very similar. Those who agreed to the extinction of it affirmed that those injured moral principles, while the ones that defended it highlighted the economic importance and financial movement that this market gradually conquered.
In 1946, then-President Dutra condemned these practices for a long time. Cities like Lambari and Poços de Caldas (Minas Gerais),Petrópolis (Rio de Janeiro)and other cities –that attracted players and gamblers from all over the world –were shut down. Even the casino hotel constructed in the city of Petrópolis, supposed to be the largest one of Brazil – the Quitandinha Palace – saw its doors closed.
Current Gambling Legislation
Nowadays Brazil condemns some types of gambling, as well as, the realization of games of chance. The practices below are only allowed when operated by establishments, companies, or services authorized by the Brazilian government.
- games in which the winning or the losing depends – exclusively or mainly – on luck
- horse race betting outside the racecourse, or outside any place not authorized to realize this practice
- sports betting
According to the country's constitution, it's forbidden to “establish or exploit games of chance in a public place or accessible to the public". The practices are illegal if realized in:
- particular houses - between individuals who are not part of the family who lives there
- hotels or houses of collective housing - between their inhabitants
- company's headquarters, society establishments or associations
- establishment designated to exploit this type of game.
The Lottery is a raffle system of awards distribution to a group of punters. In Brazil, the Lottery began in 1784, in Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto). Lotteries have spread rapidly throughout the country, being –during the twentieth century – improved in order to give more credibility and transparency to the process.
Legalization and Restrictions
From there until the 1960 decade, lotteries' administration was the responsibility of individuals selected by public bidding, and the term of the lease was 5 years. In 1961, then-President Quadros determined the Union and the State as the only ones competent to legislate over the lottery system, which means that only these two agents were allowed to conduct lotteries in the country.
Nowadays lotteries are very famous and common in Brazil, lots of Brazilians are used to gamble time or another, and some of them actually gamble on it every month. The Quadros determination is still in force, with Caixa Econômica Federal as the one responsible for their administration. There are nine federal lottery products:
- Federal Lottery
- Instant Lottery
In addition to the federal lotteries in Brazil, each state is free to regulate their respective ones. In São Paulo, for example, the state lottery is administered by Banco Nossa Caixa. The 46% of the total amount collected by lotteries is distributed in prizes and the rest is designated to the Federal Government. The money is used for investments in health, education, security, culture, and sports.
Bingo is a very traditional game in Brazil, that after then-President Dutra Law, it was only legalized again in 1993. The Law Zico was born to promote sports activities in the country by conceding part of the bingo houses' revenue to sports clubs and federations. In the following year, the first bingo establishments appeared in São Paulo and spread over the whole nation.
The law was replaced by the Law Pelé (1998), that not only continued to authorize the existence of bingos in the country, it allowed the exploitation of slot machines as well. But contraventions started to be reported to the Public Minister and the law was rescinded. The administration of bingos was passed to the Caixa Econômica Federal until the 2001.
After that the country present a period with no federal regulation for game and gambling houses. The bingo house owners conquered injunctions through the court in many States, which allowed them to continue their activities. In 2004 more than 1.1 thousand bingo houses were operating in Brazil, moving more than 200 million BRL per year.
In the same year the President Lula signed a temporary measure that finally determined the closing of bingo establishments and the usage of slot machines in the whole country. The measure wasn't approved by the National Congress, but the practice is still considered a crime.
This unfortunately isn't a barrier to bingo players. In São Paulo only, more than 600 bingo houses continue to operate illegally in the city. The game it's very popular among Brazilians. The houses have employed many strategies to avoid being caught red-handed.
All of them functions in secret places, only known by the players, while some of them opt to change regularly their establishments to avoid being tracked by the police. The Public Ministry has already received information that the police members may be involved in the bingo's schemes, receiving money in order to avoid the closure of these places.
Jogo do Bicho
As the bingo scheme presented, the illegal games in Brazil became one lucrative business for criminals. The police and politicians are involved with criminals, taking advantage of the high amount of money involved in this “sector”. With jogo do bicho, there isn't any difference, the game is an illegal betting scheme in which individuals gamble over numbers that represents animals.
It was launched in 1892 by a Brazilian Baron in Rio. He was an owner of a zoo and that's how the game got his name: game of animal. The period, in which it was created, was marked by an intense financial speculation and gambling on the stock market that resulted in a trade crisis.
To stimulate sales, traders instituted raffles and premiums to buyers. The Baron watched these new ideas and decided to create a cash prize in the zoo. The visitor who receives an animal card equivalent to the one selected by the zoo in secrecy, would win the prize at the end of the day, when one of the 25 animals would be announced.
Within that time, the animals started to be associated with numbers series of lotteries and the jogo do bicho started to be widely played outside the zoo. Currently, the game continues to be practiced on a large scale in the streets of major cities, even being considered a criminal practice by the Brazilian law. In 2013, the game completed 121 years of operation and 71 prohibitions by the Criminal Offences Act. The prohibitive legislation did not change the setting scenario of illegality of jogo do bicho in Brazil. According to the study of the portal BNLData, the game has an annual turnover of 12 billion BRL in bets.
Other Types of Gambling
- Online gambling: nowadays, online gambling isn't an illegal practice in Brazil, although in 2013 the Commission of Science, Technology, Innovation, Communication, and Computing (CCT) approved a law project, which aims to prohibit online gambling throughout the country. According to the text, to establish, operate or exploit through internet bingo, betting, or any type of gambling is not allowed and may result in imprisonment from two to five years, and more fines.
- Gambling in cruise ships: ships that have casinos can land in the country. Their passengers, if they were outside the territorial waters, are also allowed to gamble or play games of chance in the ship.
- Gambling in other countries: there's also Las Vegas for those who want to gamble, but for Brazilian residents, it's easier to cross the frontier to a South American country with a less rigid legislation for gambling. Another alternative is the access of foreign gambling sites that offer casino-related games. The Brazilian government doesn't have control over these sites and that's why gamblers usually play their favorite games through them.