“We can be protagonists and make Angra Bay a new Cancún. We have huge potential there. What do we depend on to start realizing this dream? Verbalized by Jair Bolsonaro exactly three years ago, still in the first half of his government, the intention to legalize casinos and other gambling establishments in Brazil now only depends on the Senate to become a reality. It will be up to House Speaker Rodrigo Pacheco to establish the process for the bill, approved in the House, which calls for the opening of up to 6,000 casinos, bingo and animal gaming outlets in all the countries. It is a market that, according to its proponents, will move 40 billion reais every year. But who cares about legalization? When he says “we”, which “protagonists” is Bolsonaro referring to?
In the analysis of parliamentarians and experts heard by Capital letter, the project approved in February by the deputies lacks guarantees to prohibit the participation of organized crime in a possible legal gambling market. The concern grows with the memory of the unsuccessful experience of legalizing bingo, carried out in the 1990s on the basis of the Pelé law. On this occasion, the animal gambling barons began to control, through oranges, many of whom were policemen, most of the betting houses. The result was a series of legal actions to investigate the crimes of money laundering, tax evasion and currency evasion. The history of irregularities meant that in 2004, then-president Lula ordered bingo shut down across Brazil. The straw that broke the camel’s back that led to the presidential decision was the revelation of a recording in which former Loterj president Waldomiro Diniz demanded a bribe from Carlos Ramos, Carlinhos Cachoeira.
The closure of bingos provoked the reaction of several businessmen who claimed to be exploring the vein in a legal manner and with up-to-date legal obligations. This controversy launched in Congress the discussion on the legalization of gambling, which now depends on the Senate to be concluded. The doubts of two decades ago remain. “Society needs to discuss whether to create a new sphere with potential risk of criminal activity,” says lawyer Michael Mohallem, consultant for Transparency International Brazil. Betting addiction, he recalls, is part of the International Code of Diseases established by the WHO and the project allows the development of new or prohibited activities in the country. “Parts of these activities are recognized as criminal offenses or misdemeanors. They are even controlled by agents acting illegally. In this sense, the project considerably expands the activities with which there can be association for the practice of crime, without a progressive or gradual insertion process.
Former MP Wadih Damous recalls the bingo precedent and assesses the involvement of organized crime as “inevitable” if a new legal model for gambling is approved: “A casino is the type of business that, because it operates with cash, used in betting, attracts illicit or laundered money in a way that makes tracking very difficult Certain segments of Brazilian crime have, with this legalization scenario, a dish made for money laundering and tax evasion”. The dangers go beyond financial crimes, because, in Brazil, “criminal entrepreneurs” have always had a close link with drug and arms trafficking and have been vectors of police corruption.
Approved in the hemicycle, the project now depends on the goodwill of senators
According to the prosecution, the former animal bankers, now replaced by the modern bosses of the slot machine mafia, maintain the “habitual and permanent corruption of public officials”, in particular the civil and military police. This relationship is slipping into death squads, a fact once again proven with Operation Caligula, which revealed Rogério Andrade’s partnership with former police officer Ronnie Lessa, appointed as the executioner of councilor Marielle Franco. “As this is a Bolsonar bill, there will be virtually no guarantees that these bingo and casinos will be used by organized crime and militias,” Damous says.
A specialist in organized crime in Brazil, the sociologist Ignacio Cano agrees that it is not possible to have guarantees that the legalization of gambling will not be used to launder money, but he has a reservation: “The laundering of money will not be ushered in by legalization, it is already happening. Organized crime launders money. So I think it’s important to decriminalize bingo, casinos and animal gambling. As long as these are legal activities, it will be possible to exercise control,” he says. Cano adds that as long as they remain illegal, “the games will continue to be organized by corruption on the one hand and violence on the other”. The Uerj professor also refutes the “supposed moral reason” to avoid playing games. “It would be the same as banning alcohol because there are alcoholics or banning cars because there are people causing traffic accidents.”
Government MPs say there are safeguards in the approved text to prevent the entry of organized crime. Among them, the fact that the future owners of casinos and bingo must pass the sieve of the Ministry of Economy. In addition, the draft prohibits the participation of those convicted of crimes of tax evasion, corruption, concussion and administrative impropriety, among others. However, it is worth remembering the historical and abundant “orange grove” of the offence. “I don’t see how a foreigner will survive in a universe where the current bosses will certainly organize themselves into companies, creating orange consortia to continue operating under a cloak of legality,” said Cláudio Ferraz, who led Rio de Janeiro . Organized Crime Department of Janeiro, to O Globo newspaper.
The discussion will have to go through the Senate: “There is a group of senators who are against it. On the other hand, the own son of the President of the Republic is one of the articulators for this legalization to take place. In any case, it will not be easy for this vote to take place in an election year. I do not know if it will be a priority, ”assesses Senator Humberto Costa, of the PT. Questioned by the report, Rodrigo Pacheco declared that “it is premature to confirm any decision” on the matter. “As president, I have engaged in the detailed evaluation of the bill, as I do for so many others that are being processed through the Senate.” Much of the Bible Bench, an ally of Bolsonaro, is against it. •
PUBLISHED IN EDITION NO. 1210 OF CARTACAPITALON JUNE 1, 2022.
This text appears in the print edition of Capital letter under the title “Bad luck is ours”