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DOM 18 DE FEBRERO DE 2024 - 18:02hs.
Nuno Vasconcellos, president of IG news portal

Is Brazil ready for roulette?

Luso-Brazilian businessman Nuno Vasconcellos, president of the IG news portal, dedicates his Sunday column ‘Um Olhar Sobre o Rio’ (A Look at Rio) in the newspaper O Dia to the discussion about the project that legalizes gaming in Brazil. “If well conducted and well implemented, the theme can bring important benefits and, in the case of Rio, bring back part of the glow that was when Cassino da Urca became one of the most important establishments in show business worldwide,” says Vasconcellos.

A controversial issue, which has the strength to become more and more rumored in the coming months, has been stirring behind the scenes of the Senate and everything indicates that, soon, it will be discussed by the whole society. The discussion concerns the project that legalizes gaming in Brazil. The document has already passed through the plenary of the Chamber and, in the Senate, it has a strong supporter. This is the Minister of the Civil House, Senator Ciro Nogueira.

The issue is a delicate one and most politicians don't even like to talk about it. Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco says neither yes nor no to the proposal. Some, however, do not hide which side they are on. The evangelical bench and other conservative segments do not hide their discontent with the idea. The President of the Republic Jair Bolsonaro has already said that he will veto the legalization of the activity if the Senate approves the project. The issue is really delicate and on both sides there are solid arguments on the subject.

The discussion, which concerns the entire country, is of special importance for Rio de Janeiro. The state has social, cultural, economic and historical reasons for both liking and disliking the idea. The best thing to do, in this case, is to try to gather elements that help society to form its judgment on such an important topic.

It is not a simple decision that can be made according to the preferences and personal interests of each senator. You need to justify each argument. On the negative side, there are obvious reasons to view the issue with reservation. The first of these is the ostensible presence of organized crime in the city and the evident risk that — once legalized — gambling will serve as a licit front for shady deals. And be used to launder the thieves' dirty money. There is also fear that casinos will be used to cover up other crimes and misdemeanors — such as drug trafficking and prostitution.

On the other hand, there are a number of positive effects that casinos can bring. Starting with the stimulus to tourism, through the generation of jobs and the positive impact on tax collection, supporters of the idea point out a series of benefits for the creative economy chain that is one of the most important in Rio de Janeiro. Gaming will generate, in addition to openings for croupiers, receptionists and security guards at the casinos, work for musicians, actors, dancers and set designers. Waiters, cooks, assistants and other gastronomy professionals will also benefit.

Without intending to play the role of attorney for lost causes, I dare say that neither the advocates of the measure nor the enemies of the legalization of gambling rely on consistent studies to support their arguments. Therefore, it would be essential that they provide studies to avoid that the offenses from side to side start before the heart of the matter is reached.

The fact is that the issue of legalizing gambling is a delicate one and both arguments against and in favor of the idea can be put to the test by relatively simple questions. Those who don't care about casinos might change their minds if they consider that legalizing the activity will make illegal gambling-related activities more visible. This would allow for oversight and control over the sector and its possible side effects. Furthermore, preventing casinos from operating legally will not prevent underground establishments where people can gamble freely.

The Brazilian press now and again publishes news about well-established casinos, installed in prime addresses and equipped with the most modern in the world of illegal gambling in various parts of Brazil. These establishments provide an illegal service, do not collect a penny in taxes and cannot be questioned legally if they are caught trying to deceive players. In addition, the internet is home to a multitude of online casinos. Whoever wants to play, play. Not to mention the jogo do bicho, which moves millions across the country and is not accountable to anyone. So it's better to bring the games of chance into the open than to keep them running on the sly.

They are not definitive arguments – even if the ideas favorable to gaming also present a series of cracks. Although they signal the stimulus to tourism, with the increase in the generation of jobs and with the increase in revenue, so far they have not presented a consistent plan that gives solidity to these arguments.

How many jobs will be created around the legal exploitation of gaming? Nobody knows. How much will the tax collection be and what will be the tax rules that will weigh on the activity? What are the concrete measures that the companies selected to explore the activity will have to adopt to prevent drug trafficking and prevent prostitution rings from operating in establishments? As long as there are no clear answers to these simple questions (which can be obtained based on comparisons with places where the game is legal) it will all be guesswork.


These are, as can be seen, relatively simple questions that have not yet been brought to the center of the debate. There are others that, in the same way, deserve to be mentioned and whose answers can also be obtained by comparing with the places where gaming is allowed.

What, for example, is the relationship between the crime rate in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, and that of other American cities of the same size? What are the problems that the famous Casino Estoril generates for the Portuguese region of Cascais? How many Brazilians cross the border with Argentina every year to play at Casino Iguazu, next to the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu? And at Casino Central, in Mar del Plata, also in Argentina? Or in the casinos installed in hotels in Punta del Este, Uruguay? If gambling is so bad, why don't these places ban it? If it's so good, why do other places with tourist potential that could allow it continue to ban casinos?

These are, of course, issues that should be considered and that would help to make the debate around the legalization of gambling more consistent — which, if well conducted and well implemented, can bring important benefits. And, in the case of Rio, to bring back part of the shine that existed when the Cassino da Urca, owned by businessman Joaquim Rolla — who also owned Quitandinha, in Petrópolis — became one of the most important establishments in show business worldwide.

On their stages, names such as Carmen Miranda, the sisters Linda and Dircinha Batista, Emilinha Borba, Herivelto Martins and many other artists who marked an era in Rio's nightlife and culture shone. Actors like Grande Otelo and Oscarito put on memorable shows there. Important names in international music, such as Bing Crosby and Josephine Baker, performed there. Stars like Virgínia Lane and Mara Rúbia shone in Carlos Machado's musicals. All these icons of Brazilian culture owe part of their shine to the casinos.

This is one side of the story. The other, as reported in the book 'O Rei da Rouleta', by João Perdigão and Euler Corradi, published by Casa da Palavra, which describes the trajectory of businessman Joaquim Rolla, is the atmosphere of conspiracy and suspicion of corruption that revolved around the casinos. It is, as can be seen, a sinuous topic rich in details, around which there are plenty of arguments, but sometimes there is a lack of information to support the best decision. A topic, without a doubt, thorny that must be put on the table. Given the importance of the subject, the worst thing to do is not discuss it and make a decision that is not based on facts.

Nuno Vasconcellos
Luso-Brazilian entrepreneur with a career focused on telecommunications, media, technology and real estate businesses both in Portugal and Brazil. He is president of the news portal IG and maintains the Sunday column ‘Um Olhar Sobre o Rio’ in the newspaper O Dia, of which he is director, with topics related to life and politics in the city and state of Rio de Janeiro.

Source: O Dia