Martin Lycka: Just do it, Jair

Martin Lycka Brazil Sports Betting
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The election is over. Two rounds of fierce political battling and acrimony done. The winner is declared and set to assume power on January 1. The new president is called Lula, yet Bolsonaro and his legacy keep trending high. As a result, Brazilian society remains polarized and in a dire need of unifying and healing. The roadblocks that went up in protest to the election result are being dismantled, but the ones in peoples’ minds persist. Maybe, just maybe, if the Seleção wins its record-extending sixth Mundial later this year, the good Brazilian folk might temporarily forget about its woes. It is, by no means, a given though, as not even footballing glory on the world stage could put more “arroz feijao” on the table. 

And amidst it all, the gambling industry is awaiting with bated breath for what the next steps of the now “lame-ducked” president will be. Will he sign or will he dither and procrastinate further? Does he remain concerned about the power of Congress Evangelicals, historically opposed to the sin of wagering? Or have they become a non-issue in light of the respective election defeats? And what of the casino bill being debated by the Congress? Questions abound and we shall all hope to have answers in the weeks or at the latest months to come. 

For the uninitiated, the Hamletian dilemma of signing or not signing relates to a piece of regulation that has the power to mandate the shape of the Brazilian sports betting landscape for many years. The outgoing President Bolsonaro is being invited to sign a decree that would trigger a process resulting in regulation of the Brazilian sports betting market. 

A sports betting market that, by its sheer size, has a shot at trumping even the US sports betting bonanza, if you pardon the pun. The population count stands at 215 million in Brazil. Young, old, boys, girls, fans of Palmeiras, Flamengo, Corinthians – all football mad. Kicking a ball around is deeply embedded in the psyche of the nation. Football is a religion. And football comes hand-in-hand with betting. So what is not to like? Especially given that online betting has been around for a while. It already generates more than decent advertising funds for the football clubs and beyond. 

The regulatory roadmap is in place, too. In the dying days of the Temer administration, the Brazilian Congress authorized the government to regulate sports betting. The government has been given four years to achieve that feat. Four years once appeared to have been a long time to do this. Yet the country has ended up having priorities, not least of which was the pandemic and its fallout, and the regulation remains outstanding. The four-year authorization period comes to an end on December 12, 2022. The clock is ticking, and the time to act is now. 

The industry has made it clear that it is keen on entering the to-be-regulated market and taking out licenses as soon as they become available. Opening the market would result in an additional tax take, new jobs, as well as many new sponsorship and marketing opportunities. It would also allow for separating the wheat of the license-hungry operators from the chaff of those who prefer to continue lurking in the shadows of the black market. Arguably, a smart political move and, even more importantly, a practical choice. 

To address the elephant in the room, with all due respect to the Evangelicals, sports betting is widely tolerated across the society, and not a sin. The stigma once attached to it is being dissipated by means of two concurrent processes: 1) infatuation of the Brazilians with spicing up sports watching with an occasional flutter and 2) the industry’s efforts designed to educate and protect its customers. And we shall be ready to up our game even further if 2023 turns out to be the Year of Brazilian Regulation. Just like we have before in Ontario, the States, Colombia, and all the array of European countries before. 

With that in mind, to paraphrase immortal words of yet another classic, in this case Ronald Reagan, someone you can surely related to: Mr Bolsonaro, sign the decree. Mr Bolsonaro, let licensed sports betting come.  And while you are at it, put in a good word for us in the Congress so that online casino gets regulated, too. Much appreciated. Muito obrigado, cara.