Brazil Elections Strengthen Senate Resistance To Gambling Expansion

October 6, 2022
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Brazil Senate leader Carlos Portinho believes that election victories of President Jair Bolsonaro-backed candidates made in congressional races during Sunday's general elections will not affect Congress' pending legislative agenda, including gambling.

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Brazil Senate leader Carlos Portinho believes that election victories of President Jair Bolsonaro-backed candidates made in congressional races during Sunday's general elections will not affect Congress' pending legislative agenda, including gambling.

In this past Sunday’s election, Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) won at least 23 Chamber of Deputies races, giving them 99 of the total 513 seats, which is the largest contingent of any party in the last 24 years.

Portinho told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper on October 4 that upcoming legislative projects, including a regulatory decree to implement a 2018 sports-betting law and a much larger gambling expansion bill approved by the lower house, which is now pending in the Senate, will largely remain unaffected.

The challenges, he said, will remain the same as they were prior to the election.

It should be noted that Portinho is the senator who confirmed the Brazilian government’s decision in June to delay action on the sports-betting decree until after the elections, in effect jettisoning substantial government income from gambling during the FIFA World Cup in November and December.

The decision was said to be made to placate Bolsonaro's evangelical supporters in the run-up to the election. At the time, Brazil’s Secretariat of Evaluation, Planning, Energy and Lottery (SECAP) within the Ministry of Economy had been planning the launch of sports betting in the expectation that it would happen in time for the football World Cup.

Luiz Felipe Maia, a gambling law expert and founding partner of Maia Yoshiyasu in Sao Paulo, was less optimistic than conservative lawmaker Portinho.

He told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that the new Senate composition following the elections is “not helpful. Although we cannot know for sure the actual impact, it will likely create more difficulties in the negotiations.”

Of the 27 Senate seats elected on Sunday, 14 will now be occupied by candidates supported by Bolsonaro.

Of those 14, according to Brazilian outlet BNLData, at least six will support the gambling legislation. Eight others of the 27 are also known to be supportive, bringing the total to 14. The Brazilian Senate has a total of 81 senators, who hold office for four years.

It is helpful to remember that deputies and senators do not necessarily vote in line with the opinions of their party’s president.

Udo Seckelmann, a sports and gambling attorney at Bichara Motta, pointed out that “Jair Bolsonaro has already made it very clear that he will not sanction the Bill of Law 442/91 if it is approved in the Senate, but the majority of his party's deputies voted in favor of the approval of the Bill of Law in the House of Representatives”.

The Deputies of the Worker’s Party (PT), which is the party of candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mostly voted against the gambling bill when it was in the chamber.

Regardless of party lines, the problem could lie in the election of Magno Malta and Damares Alves, who are both extremely outspoken opponents of legal gaming and will have no problem stirring up trouble for any gambling legislation in the Senate.

Malta has previously maneuvered successfully to block gambling legislation in the Senate and tweeted in 2019 that “to authorise gambling in Brazil is to encourage crime”.

Should Bolsonaro fail to be re-elected in the second round of the presidential election on October 30, Congress will provide a powerful opponent. Although given that the government needs the money that gambling taxes could provide, it remains to be seen how long a strong congressional opposition bloc can delay regulation.

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