Brazilian President Bolsonaro Opens Door For Casinos, Wants States to Impose Regulations

Posted on: August 18, 2019, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: August 16, 2019, 11:15h.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was viewed as an opponent of casino gaming when he was elected in late 2018. He held conservative views that many believed would stymie efforts to bring integrated resorts and online wagering to the country.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is changing his view on casino gaming. (Image: South China Morning Post)

Bolsonaro’s stance on the matter has since softened, and he now apparently favors legalizing casinos in Brazil. But he wants the states to impose regulations on their own, not leave the matter to the federal government.

The president recently met with Marcelo Álvaro Antônio, head of Brazil’s tourism ministry, as well as congressional leaders Vitor Hugo and Newton Cardoso, Jr., head of the tourism committee. The takeaway from that meeting is that Bolsonaro has liberalized his view on casinos.

The president told Cardoso Jr. he was in favor of legalizing casinos in Brazil, but he believed each state should enact their own regulations,” according to Yogonet.

Casino gaming has support among Brazilian politicians, both at the federal and local levels, and there are bills before the congress there to consider integrated resorts, mobile and online wagering, and sports betting. Mayor Marcelo Crivella of Rio de Janeiro, one of Brazil’s prime tourist destinations, is among the policymakers pushing for increased legalization of gaming.

“We are fighting now so that the Brazilian [National] Congress will allow us to have casinos here, something that the modern world already enjoys and that we [also] want to have [here] in Rio,” he recently said.

Last December, Brazil’s congress passed a bill allowing for online and retail sportsbooks.

Big Opportunity

The chance to operate in Brazil would likely be alluring to a broad swath of the gaming industry’s biggest names. Home to Latin America’s largest economy, Brazil is also the sixth-largest country in the world by population, with more than 211 million residents.

Tourism is also a major driver of the economy there, and data indicate arrivals are surging. The country attracted a record 6.62 million visitors last year, indicating Brazil could be fertile territory for gaming companies.

Some companies with big footprints in the US, such as Caesars Entertainment Inc. and Hard Rock International, have expressed interest in Brazil. But in the midst of being acquired by Eldorado Resorts, Caesars’ international expansion plans could be on hold.

If casino gaming is legalized in Brazil, expect Las Vegas Sands to be a player. In 2017, Las Vegas Sands CEO and Chairman Sheldon Adelson discussed an integrated resort with then-President Michel Temer, and Adelson visited the country again last year, several months before Bolsonaro was elected.

Friends In High Places

Adelson’s ties to President Trump could pay off if Brazil moves forward with integrated resort plans. Reportedly, Trump, in a 2017 meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, highlighted Las Vegas Sands’ desire to land one of Japan’s sought-after gaming licenses.

It is believed that when Bolsonaro, often dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics,” met with the US president at the White House earlier this year, Trump did the same thing and floated Adelson’s interest in building a Brazilian casino.

Nearly three years ago, the lower house of Brazil’s congress approved legislation that would permit Brazil’s 26 states to each have three brick-and-mortar casinos.

Local politicians favor casinos because of the economic benefits, including an estimated $5.2 billion in annual tax revenue for the government and the potential to create 600,000 direct jobs. Both are considerations for Bolsonaro as he grapples with a sagging national economy. Economists have been paring GDP growth targets for Brazil, and some believe the country is close to a recession.

While the unemployment rate is falling under Bolsonaro, there are still 12.8 million Brazilians without a job. Lowering that number could go a long way toward boosting the controversial president’s approval rating, which was a meager 33 percent a month ago.