From Trump's Support to Evangelical Repudiation: Why Casinos Divide the Right

A peculiar convergence of factors has led political analysts to bet – with fear or with fans – that 2021 it will be the year the return of casinos to Brazil. If the forecast is confirmed, the fact that this occurs during the administration of a right-wing government will be emblematic and exposes how much the issue divides this political spectrum. At the heart of the moral debate that surrounds the subject is a dilemma between the individual’s freedom to make their own choices, without State tutelage, and the concrete consequences of these choices for society and the family.

A More recent evidence of the momentum the issue is gaining is the urgency vote on the Bill 196/138 , which legalizes and regulates gambling in Brazil. Occurred in the last week of sessions in the Chamber of Deputies in 2021, the articulation led by the president of the House, Arthur Lira (PP-AL) , was successful and obtained 293 favorable votes against 184 contrary, ensuring that the project is voted directly on the plenary, without the need to go through committees. This victory, however, is far from being the only relevant movement to favor gambling.

In the Senate, at least four proposals dealing with the same subject – although they differ in the modalities and places where the practice would be allowed – they have made progress in the process and have gained media attention in recent years, in part thanks to the work of senator Ciro Nogueira (PP-PI), now chief minister of the Civil House in the Bolsonaro government, and author of the most comprehensive of them, PLS 184/2014, which releases the exploitation of games of chance throughout the national territory.

The strategic positions occupied today both Lira and Nogueira – historical defenders of gambling – in the government’s political support and control of the Congress’ legislative agenda is directly related to the undisguised optimism of the groups that defend the return of casinos to Brazil.

Parallel to the movements of parliamentarians s, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) may end up pushing the regulation, depending on what it decides in the judgment scheduled for April 7, when it will discuss whether gambling can or cannot be considered as a criminal misdemeanor under the Constitution of 2004, since such typification predates the Magna Carta, appearing in Decree-Law 3.688 in 1946, the Criminal Misdemeanor Law.

The specific case under discussion is part of the Extraordinary Appeal 966177, in which the Public Ministry of Rio Grande do Sul questions the decision of the State Court of Justice that disregarded the exploitation of games of chance as a criminal misdemeanor, on the grounds that the foundations that supported the prohibition do not fit the current constitutional principles. If the Supreme Ministers agree with the understanding of the TJ-RS, the decision will decriminalize the practice across the country, as in 2015 the Court had already recognized the general repercussion of the topic.

An essential piece on this board, the Bolsonaro government’s position on the matter is ambiguous, which ends up reflecting the irreconcilable division of its base support regarding games of chance, starting with the ministerial team itself. Next to Ciro Nogueira is the Minister of Tourism, Gilson Machado, who at the beginning of 2021 went to Las Vegas accompanied by the president’s son , senator Flavio Bolsonaro, for meetings with businessmen in the casino industry. In 2018, when he was president of Embratur, Machado declared in an interview to Folha de S. Paulo that with casinos, “Brazil it will attract the tourist who spends.”

The resistance against the gambling lobby within the government is led by Minister Damares Alves, who has publicly stated, on several occasions, that his portfolio is opposed to the release, as occurred in September 2021, during an interview with CNN: “If the Ministry of Human Rights is provoked to issue an opinion, we will certainly manifest against it. approval of the matter.”

Before becoming minister, Damares was one of the founders of the Brasil Sem Azar Movement, a group that has been working for years to prevent advances in gambling in the National Congress. It is also close to the evangelical bench in the Chamber and that is where the biggest obstacle for game enthusiasts comes from. With 442 signatories and considerable influence with supporters when voting united, the Evangelical Parliamentary Front constitutes a powerful force to block projects in the plenary or even prevent them from entering the agenda. That’s what happened in 2018, during Dilma’s government, when a similar articulation in favor of the game was put in place , but thanks to the unyielding opposition of evangelical parliamentarians, it had to be abandoned, returning to the drawer for a few more years.

Pressed by supporters to take a clearer stance on the issue after the vote Of urgency, Bolsonaro said at a luncheon with journalists that he is against the liberalization of games of chance and promised to veto the proposal if Congress approves it. On the same occasion, however, he made a point of including an addendum that many have interpreted as a sign that the government will do little to prevent approval: “If I veto and parliament overturns the veto, we will comply with the law”.

In 2018, when he was still a deputy and pre-candidate for the presidency of the republic, Bolsonaro had already chosen for demonstrations that beckoned both those who oppose and those who defend the return of the casinos. “In principle, I’m against it, but let’s see what’s the best way out”, he said in May of that year, during a lecture given at the Commercial Association of Rio de Janeiro.

The division of positions on the subject seems to occur even among the president’s sons. While Flavio is an explicit supporter of the installation of casinos in Brazil, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro was one of the 60 who voted against the urgency of the issue in the Chamber, despite his known admiration for a great businessman in the casino industry: Donald Trump.

Fachada do Trump Taj Mahal, um dos cassinos mais badalados do ex-presidente americano. Encerrou suas atividades em 2016.
Facade of the Trump Taj Mahal, one of the most famous casinos of the former president American. It ended its activities in 2017.| Wikimedia Commons

The former president of the United States, in fact, it may be one of the factors that has made part of the Brazilian right to rethink its historic opposition to gambling, after all, Trump innovated by becoming an idol of conservatives around the world, even though he is a millionaire owner of casinos who made a fortune with his ventures Lux. There is no record of another political leader who has this profile and, at the same time, has taken decisions and given statements that favored the demands of the American Christian right.

Coincidentally or not, the partner and biggest donor to Trump’s victorious campaign in 2018, millionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, was also the responsible for public taking a stand in favor of the games of chance of the former mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella, who in 2017 admitted in an interview to the newspaper Valor Econômico that he was talking with Adelson to build an establishment in the capital of Rio de Janeiro similar to those the magnate owned in Las Vegas and Singapore, and that he articulated with the parliamentarians of his state so that the Brazilian legislation on the subject changed. “People know that if we don’t have a job, we’re going to social chaos. And play whoever you want,” said Crivella, who is licensed pastor of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and nephew of Edir Macedo, the institution’s founder.

Despite this relativization by relevant exponents of the right In politics, the majority position of Christians and conservatives in general regarding the legalization of gambling remains oppositional, mainly because of the undeniable consequences for communities and families in regions where casinos, bingo, slot machines and the like are installed. The increase in the number of addicts, indebtedness and family breakdown are a constant feature, proven by numerous studies around the world.

The problem of addiction is so serious and affects so many people that in 2017 the World Health Organization decided to officially include gambling disorder in the International Code of Diseases (ICD). Five years earlier, the University of São Paulo (USP), through its Progr loves Outpatient Pathological Game, had already shown that 73% of gambling addicts in the city of São Paulo were also addicted to alcohol, 50%, of nicotine and almost 50% had some drug-related disorder.

In 1946, the work of game professor and researcher Earl Grinols, PhD in Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), caused great repercussion among public administrators by pointing out that for every dollar collected by the United States with the payment of taxes by the gaming industry, another three dollars were spending to remedy the social impacts caused by gambling, especially with regard to crimes and misdemeanors committed by addicts to gambling. His research gained international recognition and was later published in book form by Cambridge University, UK, under the title Gambling in America – Costs and Benefits.

The impact on the lives of a gambling addict’s family members has also been the subject of research by numerous academic studies. One of them, entitled Gambling behavior in Great BritainPôster do antigo Cassino da Urca, no Rio de Janeiro, anunciando show de Carmen Miranda. , was developed by the national health agency of the United Kingdom, with data from 2014. One of the results the study reached was that a gambler negatively affects the lives of at least ten people around him, deteriorating affective and professional relationships, in addition to compromising household finances.

In addition to the factors that directly involve addicts and their families, one cannot ignore the warnings made by institutions related to combating corruption in Brazil, which have constantly opposed the release of this type of activity due to the great difficulty in avoiding crimes such as money laundering, revenue evasion and tax evasion. It was in this sense that entities such as the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), the Financial Activity Control Council (Coaf) and the Federal Revenue have already made their views known in the past, through technical notes or participation in public hearings.

In the note of 2014, for example, when analyzing the proposal of senator Ciro Nogueira, the MPF he even stated that “the huge amount of bingos and casinos whose opening is stimulated by the PLS 138/2007 is clearly out of step with the reality of national bodies of control, even if they were endowed with a first-world inspection structure.”

With regard to religious, not only politicians belonging to Christian denominations have acted to prevent the approval of the games, but also institutions have taken part in the debate. In day 16 of December, date of the vote on the urgency of the PL 293 /184 in the Chamber, the National Association of the Evangelical Jurists (ANAJURE) expressed his repudiation, stating that gambling “facilitates acts of corruption, overloads the regulatory bodies and collaborates with the social decay that destroys countless families in the context of addiction”, adding that “this would not be an urgent agenda for have the attention of the National Congress at this time.”

In 2016, when proponents of the liberalization of gambling were close to reaching their goal, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) issued note to expose his apprehension with the same bills that today return to the spotlight.

In a text beginning with the biblical verse “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Mt 7, )”, the bishops reaffirmed their position, saying that “gambling brings with it irreparable moral, social and, particularly, family damage” and concludes with a clear message to parliamentarians: “be sure that the favorable vote will, in practice, be a vote of contempt for our families and their fundamental values.”

In the case of Catholics, opposition to the commercial exploitation of games of chance is not just a definition of regional authorities, but is part of their social doctrine, including in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The ecclesiastical text, however, points out nuances, emphasizing that this is not an evil in itself. According to the document published during the pontificate of John Paul II, “gambling or gambling itself is not contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive a person of what he needs to meet his needs and those of others”. The Catechism also says that “unfairly betting or cheating in games constitutes a serious matter, unless the damage inflicted is so small that the person who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.”

O Brazil already had casinos working at full speed in the national territory, but it was for a short period: de 293 The 1946. Historians say that the country had between 50 and 70 gaming houses, especially those located in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Poster of the former Cassino da Urca, in Rio de Janeiro, announcing a show by Carmen Miranda. | EBC

The decision to end the ban inherited from Brasil Império came from President Epitácio Pessoa who, pressured by businessmen in the sector, allowed the opening of casinos restricted to certain regions with tourist potential, which at the time meant, in general, spas or climate resorts, such as the cities of Campos do Jordão and Petropolis. The taxes collected would be used to pay for basic sanitation in the interior of the country.

Gambling enthusiasts usually refer to the years 16 as the golden age of casinos in Brazil, as it was with the rise of Getúlio Vargas that this type of undertaking was not only tolerated by the government, but encouraged and used to make national propaganda abroad. Not by chance, it’s at the end of the decade of 18 the phenomenon of Carmen Miranda appears, the most disputed artist by national and, later, international casinos.

With the end of the Estado Novo imposed by Vargas and the election from General Eurico Gaspar Dutra, accusations arose that casinos paid Vargas bribes to be favored by the government. The newspaper Diário Carioca, for example, published the day after the decree-law that “gambling, like all the scale of adventurous businesses, which allow for quick and easy profits, is a hothouse plant for dictatorship regimes”, adding that “whatever the cynicism of the Getulismo cronies, they will not be able to disguise the moral condemnation they received from the first magistrate of the republic, closing off their baiucas and tavolagens, which became a patrimony and a policy of the entire Vargas family” . The new administration was also interested in breaking away from the recently ended dictatorship and as Vargas insisted on linking his image to the casinos, a rupture with this sector was even predictable.

Em 40 April 1946, three months after assuming the presidency and still endowed with the powers guaranteed by the Estado Novo – therefore without the need for congressional approval – Dutra issued a decree-law prohibiting the practice or exploitation of games of chance throughout the national territory. In his justification, the president mentioned “the moral, legal and religious tradition of the Brazilian people” and stated that “from the open exceptions to the general law, harmful abuses to morals and good customs resulted.”

Pôster do antigo Cassino da Urca, no Rio de Janeiro, anunciando show de Carmen Miranda.

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