In December, the bill that provides for the legalization of gambling and casinos in Brazil received 293 votes in favor of 138 against in the Chamber of Deputies. The urgent nature was approved and the expectation is that the proposal will be voted on in the House’s plenary in February. Thus, the bill does not need to be submitted to the House committees.
Therefore, supporters of the idea are confident that 2022 could be the year for the resumption of casinos in the national territory. Remembering that casinos are banned from operating in Brazil since 1946.
On April 30 of the same year, President Eurico Gaspar Dutra signed a decree-law prohibiting the activity, justifying the measure due to “the moral, juridical and religious tradition of the Brazilian people” and also said that “the exceptions open to the general law resulted abuses harmful to morals and good customs”.
Now, this agenda is gaining relevance among politicians and the population. But, the release of the games still meets resistance within the governing base. Last Tuesday, 4, Gazeta do Povo published a report detailing all the points that generate this division among parliamentarians. Check out the text below!
From Trump’s Support to Evangelical Repudiation: Why Casinos Divide the Right
A peculiar convergence of factors has led political analysts to bet – with fear or with fans – that 2022 will be the year of the return of casinos to Brazil. If the prediction is confirmed, the fact that this occurs during the administration of a right-wing government will be emblematic and exposes how much the issue divides this political spectrum. At the heart of the moral debate that involves the subject is a dilemma between the individual’s freedom to make their own choices, without State tutelage, and the concrete consequences of these choices for society and the family.
At the congress
The most recent evidence of the force that the issue is gaining was the vote on the urgency of Bill 442/91, which legalizes and regulates games of chance in Brazil. Occurred in the last week of sessions in the Chamber of Deputies in 2021, the articulation led by the President of the House himself, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), was successful and obtained 293 favorable votes against 138 against, ensuring that the project is voted directly in plenary, without the need to go through committees. This victory, however, is far from being the only relevant move to favor gambling.
In the Senate, at least four proposals dealing with the same subject – although they differ in the modalities and places where the practice would be allowed – have progressed in the process and gained media attention in recent years, in part, thanks to the performance of senator Ciro Nogueira (PP -PI), today chief minister of the Civil House in the Bolsonaro government, and author of the most comprehensive of them, PLS 186/2014, which releases the exploitation of games of chance throughout the national territory.
The strategic positions occupied today by both Lira and Nogueira – historical defenders of games of chance – in the political support of the government and in controlling the Congress’ legislative agenda is directly related to the undisguised optimism of the groups that defend the return of casinos to Brazil.
In the Supreme Court
Parallel to the movements of parliamentarians, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) may end up boosting the regulation, depending on what it decides in the judgment scheduled for April 7, when it will discuss whether gambling can be considered as a criminal offense under the Constitution. of 1988, since such typification predates the Magna Carta, in the Decree-Law 3688 of 1941, the Law of Penal Contraventions.
The specific case under discussion is part of Extraordinary Appeal 966177, in which the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Rio Grande do Sul questions the decision of the State Court of Justice that disregarded the exploitation of games of chance as a criminal misdemeanor, under the argument that the grounds that based the prohibition do not conform to the constitutional principles in force. If the Supreme Court justices agree with the understanding of the TJ-RS, the decision will decriminalize the practice across the country, as in 2016 the Court had already recognized the general repercussion of the issue.
An essential piece on this board, the Bolsonaro government’s position on the matter is ambiguous, which ends up reflecting the irreconcilable division of its support base regarding games of chance, starting with the ministerial team itself. Alongside Ciro Nogueira is the minister of Tourism, Gilson Machado, who in early 2020 went to Las Vegas accompanied by the president’s son, senator Flavio Bolsonaro, for meetings with businessmen in the casino industry. In 2019, when he was president of Embratur, Machado declared in an interview to Folha de S. Paulo that with casinos, “Brazil will attract the tourist who spends”.
The resistance against the gambling lobby within the government is led by Minister Damares Alves, who has publicly stated, on several occasions, that his portfolio opposes the release, as occurred in September 2021, during an interview with CNN: “If the Ministry of Human Rights is provoked to issue an opinion, we will certainly express our opposition to the approval of the matter”.
Before becoming minister, Damares was one of the founders of the Brasil Sem Azar Movement, a group that has been working for years to prevent advances in gambling at the National Congress. It is also close to the evangelical bench in the Chamber and that is where the biggest obstacle for game enthusiasts comes from. With 196 signatories and considerable influence with sympathizers, when the Evangelical Parliamentary Front united votes, it constitutes a powerful force to block projects in plenary or even prevent them from entering the agenda. That’s what happened in 2016, during Dilma’s government, when a similar articulation in favor of the game was put in place, but thanks to the uncompromising combined opposition of evangelical parliamentarians, it had to be abandoned, returning to the drawer for a few more years.
Pressed by supporters to speak out more clearly on the issue after the urgency vote, Bolsonaro said at a luncheon with journalists that he is against the liberalization of gambling and promised to veto the proposal if Congress approves it. On the same occasion, however, he made a point of including an addendum that many have interpreted as a sign that the government will do little to prevent approval: “If I veto and parliament overturns the veto, we will comply with the law.”
In 2018, when he was still a deputy and pre-candidate for the presidency of the republic, Bolsonaro had already opted for demonstrations that beckoned both those who oppose and those who defend the return of the casinos. “In principle, I’m against it, but let’s see what’s the best way out”, he said in May of that year, during a lecture given at the Commercial Association of Rio de Janeiro.
The division of positions on the subject seems to occur even among the president’s sons. While Flavio is an explicit supporter of the installation of casinos in Brazil, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro was one of the 138 who voted against the urgency of the issue in the Chamber, despite his well-known admiration for a great businessman in the casino industry: Donald Trump.
The former president of the United States, in fact, may be one of the factors that has been making part of the Brazilian right to rethink its historic opposition to gambling, after all, Trump innovated by becoming an idol of conservatives around the world, even though he is a millionaire owner of casinos who made a fortune with their luxury ventures. There is no record of any other political leader who has this profile and, at the same time, has taken decisions and given statements that so favored the demands of the American Christian right.
Coincidentally or not, the business partner and biggest donor to Trump’s successful 2016 campaign, millionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, was also responsible for publicly taking a stand in favor of gambling by the former mayor of Rio de Janeiro , Marcelo Crivella, who in 2018 admitted in an interview to Valor Econômico newspaper that he was talking to Adelson to build an establishment in the Rio de Janeiro capital in the mold of those that the magnate owned in Las Vegas and Singapore, and that he articulated with the parliamentarians of his state so that Brazilian legislation on the subject was changed. “People know that if we don’t have a job, we’re going to social chaos. And whoever wants to play,” said Crivella, who is licensed pastor of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and nephew of Edir Macedo, the institution’s founder.
What do conservatives see wrong with games of chance?
Despite this relativization by relevant exponents of the political right, the majority position of Christians and conservatives in general regarding the legalization of gambling remains in opposition, mainly because of the undeniable consequences for communities and families in regions where casinos, bingos, slot machines and the like are installed. The increase in the number of addicts, indebtedness and family breakdown are a constant feature, proven by numerous studies around the world.
The problem of addiction is so serious and affects so many people that in 2017 the World Health Organization decided to officially include the gambling disorder in the International Code of Diseases (ICD). Five years earlier, the University of São Paulo (USP), through its Outpatient Pathological Gambling Program, had already shown that 73% of gambling addicts in the city of São Paulo were also dependent on alcohol, 60% on nicotine and almost 40 % had some drug-related disorder.
In 2004, the work of the game professor and researcher Earl Grinols, PhD in Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), caused great repercussions among public administrators when he pointed out that for every dollar collected by the United States with the payment of taxes by the industry, game, another three dollars were spent to remedy the social impacts caused by gambling, especially with regard to crimes and misdemeanors committed by addicts to the game. His research gained international recognition and was later published in book form by the University of Cambridge, UK, under the title Gambling in America – Costs and Benefits.
The impact on the lives of a gambling addict’s family members has also been the subject of research by numerous academic studies. One of them, entitled Gambling behavior in Great Britain, was developed by the national health agency of the United Kingdom, with data from 2015. One of the results the study reached was that a gambler negatively affects the lives of at least ten people in their surroundings, deteriorating affective and professional relationships, in addition to compromising domestic finances.
In addition to the factors that directly involve addicts and their families, one cannot ignore the warnings made by institutions related to combating corruption in Brazil, which have constantly opposed the release of this type of activity due to the great difficulty in preventing crimes such as money laundering, revenue evasion and tax evasion. In this sense, entities such as the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), the Financial Activity Control Council (Coaf) and the Internal Revenue Service have already made their views known in the past, through technical notes or participation in public hearings.
In the 2016 note, for example, when analyzing the proposal by senator Ciro Nogueira, the MPF even stated that “the huge number of bingos and casinos whose opening is stimulated by PLS 184/2014 is clearly out of step with the reality of national bodies of control, even if they were endowed with a first world inspection structure”.
With regard to religious, not only politicians belonging to Christian denominations have acted to prevent the approval of the games, but also institutions have taken part in the debate. On December 16, the date of voting on the urgency of PL 442/91 in the Chamber, the National Association of Evangelical Jurists (ANAJURE) expressed its repudiation, stating that gambling “facilitates acts of corruption, burdens the regulatory bodies and collaborates with the social decay that destroys countless families in the context of addiction”, adding that “this would not be an urgent agenda for the attention of the National Congress at this time”.
In 2016, when proponents of gambling liberalization were close to reaching their goal, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) issued a note to expose their apprehension about the same bills that are now returning to the spotlight.
In a text beginning with the biblical verse “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Mt 7,18)”, the bishops reaffirmed their position, saying that “gambling brings with it irreparable moral, social and, particularly, family damage” and it concludes with a clear message to parliamentarians: “be sure that the favorable vote will, in practice, be a vote of contempt for our families and their fundamental values.”
In the case of Catholics, opposition to the commercial exploitation of games of chance is not just a definition of regional authorities, but is part of their social doctrine, including in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The ecclesiastical text, however, points out nuances, emphasizing that this is not an evil in itself. According to the document published during the pontificate of John Paul II, “gambling or gambling itself is not contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive a person of what he needs to meet his needs and those of others”. The Catechism further says that “unfairly betting or cheating in games constitutes a serious matter, unless the damage inflicted is so small that the sufferer cannot reasonably consider it significant.”
The past of casinos in Brazil
Brazil already had casinos operating at full speed in the national territory, but it was for a short period: from 1920 to 1946. Historians say that the country had between 50 and 70 gaming houses, especially those installed in the city of Rio of January.
The decision to end the ban inherited from the Brazilian Empire came from President Epitácio Pessoa who, pressured by businessmen in the sector, allowed the opening of casinos restricted to certain regions with tourist potential, which at the time meant, in general, beach resorts or climate, such as the cities of Campos do Jordão and Petrópolis. The taxes collected would be used to fund basic sanitation in the interior of the country.
Gambling enthusiasts often refer to the 1930s as the golden age of casinos in Brazil, as it was with the rise of Getúlio Vargas that this type of venture was not only tolerated by the government, but encouraged and used to make national propaganda abroad. It is not by chance that the phenomenon of Carmen Miranda appeared at the end of the 1930s, the most sought-after artist in national and, later, international casinos.
With the end of the Estado Novo imposed by Vargas and the election of General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, accusations arose that casinos paid Vargas bribes to be favored by the government. The newspaper Diário Carioca, for example, published the day after the decree-law that “gambling, like all the scale of adventurous businesses, which allow for quick and easy profits, is a hothouse plant for dictatorship regimes”, adding that “whatever the cynicism of the Getulismo cronies, they will not be able to disguise the moral condemnation they received from the first magistrate of the republic, closing off the baiucas and the tavolagens, which became a patrimony and a policy of the entire Vargas family” . The new administration was also interested in breaking away from the recently ended dictatorship and as Vargas insisted on linking his image to casinos, a break with this sector was even predictable.
On April 30, 1946, three months after assuming the presidency and still endowed with the powers guaranteed by the Estado Novo – therefore without the need for congressional approval – Dutra issued a decree-law, prohibiting the practice or exploitation of games of chance in the entire national territory. In his justification, the president mentioned “the moral, juridical and religious tradition of the Brazilian people” and stated that “from the open exceptions to the general law, harmful abuses to morals and good customs resulted”.