Brazil Gambling Vote Imminent In Landmark Year For Lotteries, Sports Betting

February 8, 2022
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The lower house of Brazil’s Congress is preparing to vote this month on a plan to open one of the world’s largest untapped gambling markets to casinos, bingo machines and online gaming.

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The lower house of Brazil’s Congress is preparing to vote this month on a plan to open one of the world’s largest untapped gambling markets to casinos, bingo machines and online gaming.

Congress returned to work last Wednesday (February 2) with gambling expansion high on the immediate agenda after federal deputies passed a resolution in one of their last acts before the Christmas recess.

The December 16 vote assigned urgency status to a long-stalled gambling bill, making it eligible for a final floor vote of all members whenever the Chamber of Deputies is next in session.

Although further amendments are expected, Bill no. 1991/442 in its current form proposes to legalize more than 30 integrated-resort casinos across Brazil’s 26 federal states, plus hundreds of bingo halls hosting tens of thousands of video-bingo machines.

The traditional numbers game of jogo do bicho would also become legal, while the Ministry of Economy would gain authority to regulate online gaming, complementing an ongoing effort to establish a licensing regime for sports betting.

Aside from traditional lottery drawings, horseracing and a brief flirtation with bingo that ended some 20 years ago, all gambling has been illegal in Brazil since the 1940s.

Historic vote ahead

The start of a new congressional session has coincided with a series of recent articles and editorials in the Brazilian media about the upcoming vote and the pros and cons of legal gambling.

“The pandemic increased unemployment in the country. Games of chance will formalize jobs that already exist and the robust investments that will come with integrated-resort casinos are going generate thousands of jobs,” Felipe Carreras, the federal deputy who authored the latest version of the gambling bill on behalf of a special congressional commission, told the Estado de São Paulo newspaper last week.

Although approval of the resolution in December means the gambling bill is ultimately expected to have enough votes to pass the lower house, proponents will not have forgotten that the last time a bill to legalize bingo was brought up for a vote in the Chamber of Deputies in 2010, it was soundly defeated.

There also remains significant opposition from influential conservative and religious groups, with the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops issuing a statement last week urging lawmakers to reject the bill on grounds it would lead to addiction and crime.

Even after the bill passes the Chamber of Deputies it is not a sure bet to become law.

The same piece of legislation would also have to be passed by the Senate, which has similarly been debating expanded gambling for several years with only modest signs of progress.

The Senate recently staged a committee debate on an alternative proposal that would limit gambling expansion to casino-resorts, and certain senators are likely to continue to make that case once the upper chamber receives the bill from deputies.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has also declared on several occasions that he will not sign a gambling bill and would instead require Congress to override a veto.

Still, Bolsonaro is unpopular and considered a long-shot for re-election in October, and he is not expected to instruct his party’s members in Congress to vote against gambling.

Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira, is also the former chief proponent of gaming expansion in the Senate who remains an influential figure on the issue.

It is not entirely clear exactly when the Chamber of Deputies will hold its eagerly anticipated vote on the gambling bill.

December’s resolution technically means it should be brought up in the next plenary session, although Bill 442/1991 does not appear to be on the Chamber’s voting agenda for any day this week.

Evangelical leaders have also sought to ensure the vote only happens once Congress is back in-person in Brasilia, rather than meeting virtually. Nevertheless, a vote is expected this month, according to various Brazilian media reports.

Momentum for state lotteries, sports betting

For all the current restrictiveness of the Brazilian market, the developments in Congress are actually a third expansionary front in what is shaping up to be a transformative year for the gambling industry in Brazil.

The Ministry of Economy is soon expected to release a regulatory decree for retail and online sports betting to implement a December 2018 law that recognized fixed-odds betting as a lawful lottery game subject to federal regulation.

The hope of government officials and market observers is that a licensing regime for online sports betting will be in place before the football World Cup.

Meanwhile, more than half of Brazil’s states are moving forward with creating or expanding their state lotteries, capitalizing on a September 2020 Supreme Court ruling.

Legislation to authorize a state lottery has been enacted already this year in the states of Santa Catarina, Roraima and Parana, with more populous Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro continuing to consult on plans to expand lottery operations.

But by far the largest potential state lottery market is São Paulo, home to more than 45m residents.

After passing a lottery bill last June, the São Paulo government resolved in December to introduce a state lottery by issuing an exclusive concession to one private operator to offer a range of traditional and interactive lottery games, including fixed-odds sports betting.

The plans were discussed at a public meeting with interested parties last week, with concession terms due to be published late this month and an auction process expected to be held on March 29.

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