Brazil Casino Proponent Says It’s Time to Override President, Religious Opposition

Posted on: January 3, 2022, 10:07h. 

Last updated on: January 3, 2022, 11:01h.

Brazil lawmakers have long debated the merits of legalizing commercial gambling. While such efforts to approve casinos have gone unsuccessful, a federal official says 2022 will be the year.

Brazil casinos gambling sports betting
Brazil Federal Deputy Herculano Passos speaks at an event in 2021. The federal politician says he will lead the charge in 2022 to legalize commercial casinos in Brazil. (Image: Getty)

Federal Deputy Herculano Passos (MDB-SP) has represented Sao Paulo in the lower chamber since 2015. The lawmaker from Brazil’s most populated city says the cash-strapped and economically struggling South American country could benefit from legalizing integrated resort casinos.

Speaking recently with Brazil media outlet Poder360, Passos said that the country’s $18 billion deficit could be greatly improved. That would be done by taxing casino gambling and allowing the world’s largest casino operators to build leisure destinations in major cities.

Passos adds that welcoming in companies such as MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands would create thousands of new jobs. However, there is strong opposition to casinos in Brazil.

Sidestepping Opposition

Brazil has been attractive as a possible new casino market for decades. Sheldon Adelson, the late founder of Sands who was the world’s richest casino tycoon until his January 2021 death, made numerous scouting and exploration trips to Brazil.

Adelson floated as much as $15 billion in investments from Sands should Brazil welcome his casino company. The country never did, of course. Brazil’s vast religious groups were credited for swaying lawmakers from voting to legalize casinos.

Passos says the fiscal benefits of gambling far outweigh the concerns raised among the religious operatives.

I’ve already debated with evangelical leaders and I respect their opinion, but I don’t understand why they are against it [gambling]. They say it increases addiction. But the person who is addicted gambles clandestinely.”

Passos claims that Brazil is the only country where Christianity is the predominant religion, but casinos remain barred. It’s worth noting that in Ethiopia, a country where three in four classify as Christians, casinos remain outlawed.

Brazil, however, is certainly the largest country where Christianity is the predominant religion and casinos remain outlawed.

“Behind the casinos come the integrated resorts. They bring conventions and people from all over the world who enjoy leisure and come with their families. This brings wealth,” Passos concluded.

Presidential Power

Along with the religious opposition, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said recently that he would veto any legislation that seeks to legalize gambling. Bolsonaro, who was hospitalized today with a stomach ailment, opined in September that “Gambling represents loss rather than winning.”

Passos is well aware of the president’s position, but believes the National Congress could override Bolsonaro’s veto.

Passos says the needed support to override the president’s power will come once the fiscal benefits of integrated resorts are better known. The federal deputy says a 30 percent effective tax on gross gaming revenue would deliver Brazil’s government R$20 billion (US$3.53 billion) annually.

Brazil is set to soon begin receiving some financial benefit from gambling, although the tax receipts will be trivial. Prior to Bolsonaro becoming president, Brazil legalized sports betting in 2018 during Michael Temer’s administration.

The first sportsbooks are expected to begin taking bets in the coming months. The delay has been due to a comprehensive federal study first being conducted on best regulatory practices. Lawmakers then took their time in crafting final governing rules for sports betting. The final implementation and federal approval was further stalled by COVID-19.