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Brazil: What is the influence of religion on gambling regulations?

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After the long-awaited regulatory of igaming in Brazil and sports betting, iGB examines the influence of religion on attitudes toward gambling – as well as the progress made in gambling legislation – in the country.

Unexpectedly, in Latin America (LatAm), no state has an official religion. Many people associate Christian denominations in the LatAm region and find it synonymous with religion.

Magnho Jose is the editor of BNLData, and the president of the Instituto Brasileiro Jogo Legal. He says that the Latin American population, in general, is Christian. In most countries this number is higher than 80%. This includes Catholics as well as evangelicals.

According to Hugo Baungartner and Jose Baungartner of Aposta Ganha’s vice-president for global markets, the influence of religion on political life in this region is increasing.

Jose says, “The strength of religion in Africa and its influence on institutional politics are well-known. More and more religious individuals, progressive and reactionary alike, have joined forces to promote their ideas in public.”

Baungartner continues, “[Religious] Influence has grown year after year as the number of religions have increased.” They have formed groups and even their own political parties to exercise their influence.

Influence of Brazilian legislative outcomes

Brazil is one of the few LatAm nations that has seen religious influences on its gambling policies, even though it’s a country with no religion. It also celebrates 7th January as a day dedicated to this principle.

Global Religion 2023, a study conducted in 26 countries, found that Brazil had the highest proportion of people who believed in God or higher powers. At 89%. This has, predictably, bled over into Brazil’s political system.

Jose explains that in the past 82 years several issues have been controversial in Brazil, including the legalisation gambling. “Those outside of Brazil may find it difficult to understand the Brazilian politicians’ lack of objectivity when they talk about gambling. The religious issues often contaminate and distort the debate.

Brazil’s evangelical movement has been a major force in the country over the past few years. Around a third its population will identify as evangelical by 2022. The evangelical legislators’ opposition to Bill 3,626/2023 – the much anticipated law that regulates sports betting and online gaming – was so strong, it almost stopped its progress.

Expert on Latin America Felipe Fraga says that Brazil was and is the most important nation to face [religious opponents].

The reason for this is because when you look at the countries with the highest population, none of them has more than 20 percent evangelicals. The neopentecostal movement is also very powerful in Brazil, and their political connections are strong.

Black market has unintended effects

Brazil’s black and gray markets continue to be a source of concern, as they are with every market that is regulated. Baungartner believes that the evangelistic argument’s religious focus could do more harm in this regard than good.

He explains, “They claim that gambling is against both their religion and God, who is also against it.” They use it to manipulate other politicians.

They are literally doing the devil’s work. “They don’t realize that things have changed, and it would be better to regulate it instead of having a grey market.”

Fraga, an evangelical Christian himself, agrees and proposes that regulations will protect Brazilian citizens.

He explains: “They argue about the social aspect, looking at addiction risks and their impact on society. They also raise money laundering, match fixing, and other issues.” They claim that the bill would allow bad behavior and criminal acts. This is totally wrong. The idea of regulation ensures taxation for the country and social safety.

It is what industry needs: Fair rules to keep providing modern entertainment.

Jose says that family values are at the core of evangelicalism’s strong beliefs on gambling. Jose notes that the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil’s (CNBB) recent statement on gambling stated it would cause irreparable social, moral and family harm.

At the event, it was said: “An affirmative vote for gambling is, in reality, a vote against life, family, and fundamental values.”

The dispute is not just a matter of morality. The Evangelicals, and religious politicians in general, also bring up legitimate concerns of the industry such as tax evasion and money laundering. These are issues that would be addressed by regulation.

The long road to regulatory reform

The influence of religion on Brazilian gambling laws goes back a long way. Due to religious influences, gambling was prohibited in Brazil in 1946. Bingo was then legalised from 1994 until 2005 and was again banned.

It was long overdue. This is the reason why Bill 3,626/2023 passed so well in December.

Brazil has begun to regulate its sports betting and igaming market. Brazil’s Ministry of Finance, along with the newly-established regulator Regulatory Policy of the Prizes and Betting Secretariat, is constantly publishing market rules, including prohibiting cryptocurrency and credit card payments.

Can Brazil reverse its gambling regulations?

Jose cautions those who are rejoicing at the new market regulation not to become complacent.

He says that there is “a high risk” of regressing. I don’t think it will reach the point where gambling laws are repealed, but religious groups will try to stop expansion of gambling and stifle current gambling operations.

The ecumenical opponents who criticise the legalisation of gambling must acknowledge that legal gambling has many positive aspects that far outweigh any disadvantages that may be proposed by anyone or group.

Baungartner insists that gambling, in the end, is just a form of business, and the acceptance it has received by other nations neutralises the negative perception, saying “The mentality is different now.”

So, a complete revocation of the license is unlikely to happen – at least not right away. Fraga says that as long as industry cooperates, the road to Brazil’s regulatory market should be smooth.

He says that as long as the Latin American industry continues to grow and proves its importance in society (by creating jobs, moving the economy, entertaining people, controlling drug addictions, etc.) there is no need to repeal the law.

Even though we may consider the risk, nothing will happen soon.

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