Brazil President Bolsonaro Courts Evangelical Supporters Prior to Entertaining Gambling Expansion

Posted on: November 28, 2019, 11:08h. 

Last updated on: November 28, 2019, 11:41h.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is looking to drum up support among evangelical politicians and their constituents, groups that were integral in his surprise 2018 victory. That’s before making a formal decision on expanded casino gaming in the country.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is courting evangelical support for gaming expansion. (Image: Financial Times)

On the campaign trail last year, Bolsonaro was seen as anti-gambling. Often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics,” the Brazilian president made family values a centerpiece of his campaign, a theme he’s emphasized during his first year in office. He’s drawn the ire of some left-leaning political and LGBTQ groups for deriding standardized academic tests given to Brazilian high school students that feature questions about transgender culture.

Some early supporters have been critical of Bolsonaro’s softer stance toward gaming expansion in Brazil. But the president emphasizes that he remains opposed to it, but that the states should be free decide their own fates when it comes to increased gambling offerings.

That’s similar to the approach taken in the US on sports betting. Since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), US states have been able to chart their own courses on sports wagering.

Important Courtship

The input of a group of an evangelical group of Brazilian politicians known as the bancada evangelica (evangelical bench) is critical on the gaming issue. Those policymakers account for 200 of the 513 seats in the Brazilian congress.

Bancada evangelica could butt heads with another group, Centrão, which supports legalized gaming in Brazil. Centrão is described as a multi-party faction with no clear ideological agenda. But its members are mostly conservatives that favor gambling expansion.

Among the politicians that have been overt in their support of bringing more gaming to Brazil, including large-scale integrated resorts, are mayors of some major cities that are prime tourist destinations. For example, Mayor Marcelo Crivella of Rio de Janeiro is pushing for casinos.

Rio’s Municipal Urban Planning Office is ready to pitch a plan aimed at attracting gaming companies to a waterfront region that would be part of a broader revitalization of that area.

Plenty Of Interest, But There’s A Sticking Point

If Brazil legalizes commercial gaming, there’s sure to be plenty of interest from some of the world’s largest operators. Pansy Ho of MGM China Holdings Ltd. recently expressed interest in Brazil, and Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson has long eyed Latin America’s largest economy as a potential destination for an integrated resort.

Adelson reportedly met with former Brazilian President Michel Temer about the idea of an $8 billion integrated resort, and is believed to have been in the country in 2018, prior to Bolsonaro’s election, to push that plan.

Other operators that are rumored to be interested in the country include Caesars, MGM Resorts, and Hard Rock International.

However, there’s a big sticking point: Bolsonaro’s opposition to slot machines. The president views those gaming devices, which are usually the biggest profit-generators in casinos, as detrimental to family life.

It’s also expected that if Bolsonaro signs off on commercial gaming legislation, he would require that states enforce a “foreigners only” policy at integrated resorts, a strategy employed in some Asian countries.