With more than 200 million residents Brazil is the fifth most populated country on the planet. And despite a long-standing prohibition on almost all forms of gambling, Brazilians still love to bet on games of chance, sporting contests, lotteries, and, increasingly, poker.
Famous for offering a cross-cultural blend of ethnicities, nationalities, and languages, Brazil is also one of the most multilayered societies in the world. And while a certain level of complexity helps to create the truly unique Brazilian culture we know today, it can also have an adverse effect on foundational concepts like the rule of law.
Officially classified as a Federative Republic, Brazil is comprised of 26 individual states and a federal district – with each holding autonomous control over its own legal system. Throw in several centuries of imperial Portuguese rule, the after-effects of revolution and independence, and a succession of quasi-democratic governments, and learning how any system of law works in Brazil can become a torturous task.
This phenomenon is not limited simply to gambling. Today in Brazil basic functions like hunting, smoking in public, and even topless sunbathing are all, along with gambling, technically forbidden by federal law. Even so, every single day Brazilians can be found sourcing their sustenance from the local wild, lighting up a cigarette during an evening stroll, baring their skin on the beach – and indeed, gambling to their heart’s content.
Specifically, the currently confused state of gambling law in Brazil stems from the Criminal Contravention Act of 1941 – a federal law which expressly prohibits all gambling on “games of chance.” Crucially, this law defines games of chance as “a game in which winning or losing depends exclusively or principally on luck; bets on horses outside of the racetrack; or bets on any sports competition.”
Still in effect today, the Act also bans brick and mortar casinos, making Brazil by far the most disproportionate nation on Earth in terms of population size to casino count ratio – with 200 million citizens and only two live casinos.
In 1967 the federal government authorized Law Decree 204, which created a national lottery system, and 17 of 26 Brazilian states also operate their own lotteries. By 1993, bingo and slot machines were permitted for use, opening the proverbial floodgates as state lotteries began expanding their scope to serve new markets.
Obviously, the Act could not have addressed the issue of online gambling, so today wagering via the internet is actually classified as legal in Brazil – or at the very least, not illegal. More accurately, under the terms of the Act, operating an online casino from within Brazil is still a violation of the law, but placing wagers with an online casino based internationally cannot be considered a crime.
As such, major offshore services of online casino software – companies like NetEnt Microgaming, Playtech, IGT, and Betsoft – all allow Brazilian customers to access their client casinos. Some of the more popular online casino platforms in Brazil are Dhoze Casino, Jackpot City, and Spin Palace, all of which offer the full spectrum of casino table games, card games, slot machines, and sports betting.
With over 100 million active internet users in the country – a number which grows seemingly by the day – Brazil presents a proverbial goldmine in terms of online casino player base. Add the influence of mega-celebrities and societal heroes like Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima and Neymar Jr. – both stars for Brazil’s beloved national soccer squad and current “SportStars” for the world’s leading online poker room PokerStars – and the demand for online gambling in the country has never been greater.
In recent years the federal government has sought ways to stay ahead of the curve, hoping to capitalize on the expanding market for online gambling rather than criminalize the activity.
In December 2015 the Special Committee on National Development (CEDN) approved Bill 186-2014, which would call for the creation of 35 brick and mortar casinos, 1,200 bingo parlors, 600,000 video bingo terminals – and a fully regulated online gambling industry. With a reported $875 million in business being conducted by Brazilians through offshore online casinos, the government is intent on retaining those funds domestically, especially considering the country’s deteriorating economy.
As of July 2016, Bill 186-2014 has yet to receive passage by the full Senate or House, but according to Herculano Passos, a Social Democratic Party member of the Chamber of Deputies, momentum remains strong. Unfortunately, lawmakers will likely be forced to wait until the suspension and impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff are addressed before embarking on any proposed reforms to Brazil’s untenable system of gambling laws.