Brazil’s Congress is edging closer to concluding its work for 2023 without giving final approval to a closely-watched bill to regulate sports betting and online casino games.
The Chamber of Deputies, or lower house, must vote for a second time to pass Bill 3626/2023 as federal deputies decide whether to accept or reject 42 amendments made by the Senate on December 12.
Late last week, Chamber Speaker Arthur Lira stated that the online betting bill would be brought back up before the upcoming congressional recess.
He also signalled his intention to bring online casino games back into the bill after they were removed by the Senate amid pushback from more conservative senators.
Bill proponents were initially optimistic that the legislation would be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, first on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday evening, but Bill 3626/2023 was not included on the Chamber’s voting agenda for either day amid an apparent lack of consensus over online gaming.
Lira and other key lawmakers are understood to be ready to accept all of the Senate’s amendments, with the notable exception of limiting the bill to sports betting.
That would result in a major win for Brazilian betting interests, as the Senate’s version of the bill includes more favourable provisions on taxes, licensing terms and various other issues compared with the initial version approved by the Chamber in mid-September.
As has been the case for almost all of 2023, however, the path to regulation in Brazil remains far from smooth, with evangelical members of the lower house now mounting fierce resistance to any move to override the Senate’s opposition to online casino.
Although the Chamber of Deputies included online gaming in its own version of the bill, that initial vote came after online casino games were hastily added to the sports-betting measure at the 11th hour. The issue has since taken on far more prominence as senators successfully mobilised against the more expansive approach to online gambling.
“We cannot legalise something online that the law prohibits in physical form, which is the case with bingo and casinos,” Sóstenes Cavalcante, an influential anti-gambling deputy from Rio de Janeiro state, told CNN Brasil following meetings with Lira and other lawmakers on the issue.
“There’s a discussion that needs to be had and I don’t think there is enough time for that this year; it’s too tight,” Cavalcante said.
As of Wednesday evening, there were conflicting reports as to whether Lira would be able to successfully negotiate with evangelical members of the Chamber of Deputies to secure the inclusion of online gaming in the bill so it can be approved before the end of this year and be included in government budget forecasts for 2024.
Congress is scheduled to go on recess on Friday (December 22), but it is still possible that Bill 3626/2023 could be voted on either later today or just prior to the adjournment on Friday.
If the online betting bill is not approved this week, it will remain alive in 2024 but will not be reconsidered until after deputies and senators return to Brasilia on February 2.
That, in turn, would presumably delay the Brazilian federal government’s plan to kick off a licensing process by mid-year.
The delays to a final vote on the online betting bill have not been the only source of frustration for Brazil’s gambling boosters this week.
An influential Senate committee on judicial and constitutional affairs had scheduled a meeting on Wednesday to finally vote on a much broader expanded gambling bill to regulate land-based casino-resorts and video-bingo operations, in addition to online casino and bingo games.
That meeting was abruptly cancelled late on Tuesday evening, meaning 2023 will conclude without the Senate taking any action on the bill that was passed by the Chamber of Deputies in February 2022.