Football and gambling are inseparable. In the English Premier League, often regarded as the best domestic championship in the world, nine out of 20 teams in the 2018–2019 season had casino or betting companies as their prime shirt sponsor. Plus, even if their logo is not brandished all across players’ chests, every major European club has its own “official gambling partner”—sometimes more than one. Such is not the case in Brazil, where gambling on football has been outlawed since 1946.

For better or for worse, betting is a part of the culture of sport around large parts of the world, especially in Australia, parts of southeast Asia, and northern Europe. In the British Isles, with bookmakers seemingly on every street corner, pubs on the weekend are full of punters glued to their phones, attentively following matches from Spain, Switzerland, Holland, or what have you, hoping their ten-team accumulator bet will come good.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While in its very early stages, that reality could be where Brazil is headed. Despite the 1946 ruling outlawing betting and all games of chance—which, in Brazil, are revealingly called </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">jogos de azar</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, or &#8220;games of bad luck&#8221;—a law was sanctioned in December of last year permitting &#8220;fixed-odds betting on sporting events,&#8221; which the Economy Ministry now has until December 2020 to regulate.</span></p> <h2>The Brazilian betting market</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is undeniable that a demand exists for gambling on sports in Brazil. There is already a reasonably popular </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/01/08/brazil-lottery-statistical-aberration/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">government-sponsored</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> pools game which requires gamblers to predict the outcome of 14 random matches from a given week, and hundreds of thousands play a fantasy football platform known as Cartola FC, vying for weekly prizes. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Furthermore, there are lots of illegal games going on around the country, from under the table sports betting, to slot machines, bingo, and the infamous </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">jogo do bicho</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, a folkloric lottery in which participants place money on animals which represent a group of numbers in a weekly draw. These games are often used as a convenient front for money laundering in criminal activity.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There is incredible room for growth for sports betting in the country. A study from thinktank Fundação Getúlio Vargas </span><a href="https://revistapegn.globo.com/Noticias/noticia/2019/02/com-lei-brasil-mira-filao-das-apostas-esportivas-online.html"><span style="font-weight: 400;">estimates</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that the market already moves around BRL 4 billion a year, even working outside of the law. This comes down to the use of international betting sites in Brazil, which allow domestic punters to go online and gamble on Brazilian football, with several such services offering Portuguese versions of their websites.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Online bookmakers have also made a recent push to advertise heavily in Brazilian sport. The sponsorship of football clubs has already started, with first division side Fortaleza signing a shirt deal with online casino NetBet. British gambling operator Sportingbet is one of the most active in the country, circumventing the law by encouraging punters to “make predictions and win prizes,” as opposed to advertising the unregulated practice of fixed-odds betting.</span></p> <h2>Match-fixing scandals in Brazilian football</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On the competition side of things, there is a question over how the increased presence of gambling will affect the sport itself. With an active market for punters, there will undoubtedly be more interest in watching matches which were previously overlooked. Brazilian football fans have a habit of only following the games of their favorite teams, meaning that viewing figures for matches involving sides outside of large urban centers are often pitiful.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, with the added presence of money riding on the results of games, the most likely outcome is a growing </span><a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/28/sport/spanish-football-arrests-match-fixing-spt-intl/index.html"><span style="font-weight: 400;">skepticism of the cleanliness of the sport</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. And they have reasons to be suspicious.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As recent as 2005, weekly magazine </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Veja</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> uncovered the so-called </span><a href="http://esportes.terra.com.br/futebol/corrupcaonofutebol/interna/0,,OI681561-EI5477,00.html"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Whistle Mafia</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> operating in Brazilian football. It was found that a number of investors had paid bribes to Brazilian referees to influence the results of matches in the country&#8217;s first division. That season, the 11 games overseen by the corrupted official Edison Pereira de Carvalho were replayed, eventually changing the outcome of the league. </span></p> <h2>Addiction</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The worry, of course, is that by allowing access to sports betting in the country, the level of gambling addiction will also increase. In a 2014 piece, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Economist </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">reckoned that </span><a href="https://www.economist.com/asia/2017/03/16/australians-spend-more-on-gambling-than-people-anywhere-else"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Australians lose over USD 1,000 a year</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, per adult resident, on gambling. Some USD 200 of that proportion came from sports betting. Considering the minimum wage in the country, that means that the </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">average</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> citizen in Australia loses around 5 percent of their yearly income on gambling.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Addiction is already a severe public health problem in Brazil, with drug and alcohol abuse, coupled with high unemployment, leading to over 100,000 people in the country living on the street. Adding legalized gambling into this mix would require effective support networks and treatment advice which Brazil seems unprepared to provide.

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MoneyJul 02, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.