Brazil’s looming general elections are likely to further stall Brazil’s proposed gambling reforms.
The country’s politicians have been debating liberalizing gambling laws since at least 2014, when a Senate bill was introduced that would legalize land-based casinos — illegal since 1946 — and build a framework of regulation for legal online gaming,
Four years later, that bill is still floating around the legislature. In March, it was rejected by Constitution and Justice Commission, although it still has a chance of being approved by the Senate Plenary.
Opposition coincided with the introduction of a competing bill by the Ministry of Tourism which proposes legalizing only land-based casinos, not online gambling.
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With and an estimated 198 million smartphones in use among a population of just over 200 million, operators see the opening up of the Brazilian online gaming market as a huge opportunity. The only legal forms of gambling are currently horse racing, the lottery, and land-based poker tournaments.
Land-based casino operators are eager to get in on any future action too, and reforms appeared to pick up steam in 2017 when Las Vegas Sands Corp chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson visited high-ranking Brazilian officials, reportedly to discuss “investments” of $8 billion in Rio de Janeiro.
But expanding gambling in this deeply Catholic country is proving to be a tough proposition and, with elections planned for October, politicians’ minds are suddenly on other things.
“It is an election year and politicians are unlikely to want to defend a sensitive topic such as gambling, which is associated with money laundering and criminal activity,” Neil Montgomery, of São Paulo-based law firm Montgomery & Associados told Gaming Intelligence this week. “Especially in light of the widespread corruption scandals involving Brazil’s politicians on an unprecedented scale.”
In 2016 then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached on corruption charges. A year later, her successor, Michel Temor, was charged with accepting bribes. He remains in power but is deeply unpopular and will not survive the election.
Montgomery believes that 2019 could be the year parliament gets the job done but much depends on the political landscape that emerges, post-election.
“One of the greatest challenges faced by the legalisation of games of chance in the country is the religious opposition,” Montgomery says. “Politicians forming the ‘Evangelical Bench’ in Congress are very strong and Brazil is still the world’s largest Catholic country.”
“We have to see how the post-election political scenario shapes up,” he added. “There is strong lobbying for integrated resorts and the new Tourism Minister points in that direction. But next year there may be a different person filling this position.”