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Urban Living

I got the winning number!

Studies analyze the power of the jogo do bicho animal game in the creation of national modernity

GUILHERME LEPCAIn História do Brasil (1932), poet Murilo Mendes emphatically defined the Homo brasiliensis: “Man is the only animal that gambles on animals.”  Strangely, as pointed out by anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, author of Águias, burros e borboletas: um estudo antropológico do jogo do bicho, “important institutions that help understand Brazil, such as the carnival festivities, soccer, and the jogo do bicho are virtually banned from intellectual reflections and are viewed as proof of ignorance, lack of culture and the expression of our perennial inclination toward corruption and crime.” For decades, the legislators have debated the issue of legalizing the clandestine lottery game without reaching a consensus, even though a point of sale for betting on the jogo do bicho was found last year on the premises of the National Congress. In addition, there are people who point their fingers at the bicheiros, the mobsters who run this lottery game, naming them as the patrons of drug trafficking and creators of a tropical version of the mafia. Nevertheless, during every Carnival season, newspapers and magazines publish photographs of the presidents of the samba schools, most of whom are believed to be bicheiros, and who are also allegedly on the board of the official League of Samba Schools (Liesa.)

How can one explain that an innocent lottery game, devised in 1892 by an aristocrat, the Baron of  Drummond, as a means of preserving the Zoo of  Vila Isabel, viewed as a symbol of civilization in the tropics, turned into a controversial misdemeanor in such a short period of time?  “Repression of the jogo do bicho was never a moral or legal issue. In the past, it represented, at first, the desire of the State to regulate the behavior of ordinary Brazilian citizens. Studying the history of the jogo do bicho enables one to understand the growing criminalization of daily life in the early twentieth century, as a result of the changes that Brazilian society went through in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery, during the transition to a capitalistic, consumer society, whose urban version was based on constraints imposed on the lives of ordinary citizens in both the private and public arenas,”  explains the historian Amy Chazkel, from the City University of New York. This month, Amy Chazkel will release the book Laws of chance: Brazil’s clandestine lottery and the making of urban public life (Duke University Press).  “The “jogo do bicho”  was not the brainchild of an entrepreneurial Baron; it was the result of the interaction between the State and the population. The jogo do bicho defied the legal lotteries, the proceeds of which went to the government. “The jogo do bicho represented the liberal trends that the trade associations and the Legislative Power were trying to eradicate and seemed to confirm the fear of the elite about the entropic tendencies of  the working class, their desire to make money without having to earn it, and their disregard for the law.”   In the words of DaMatta:  “The jogo do bicho confirms the enormous creativity of Brazilians, because it distills utopia and generosity, which explains why, like cats, it has seven lives, in spite of police persecution, of daft governments, and a hawk-like elite that has always been much more scoundrel-like than aristocratic.”

João Batista Vianna Drummond (1825-1897) was a friend and partner of the Baron of Mauá. In 1872, Drummond bought a huge piece of  land on the slopes of the Engenho Novo hills. In the following year, he opened the Companhia Arquitetônica, property development company, to develop this property, which was to include wide avenues in the French mode, as opposed to the Portuguese form of urban development in Rio, based on narrow streets. Drummond was an abolitionist and, as such, he named the property development Vila Isabel, in honor of the princess. The modern property development included leisure facilities and a tram connection to downtown Rio de Janeiro. In line with the scientific and civic spirit of the times, the Baron allocated 300 thousand square meters for a zoological garden, which was to be a reference for Brazilian scholars. Resorting to his contacts with the state government, Drummond requested and was granted a subvention to open the zoo, which was inaugurated in 1888. This endeavor earned him the title of baron, granted to him by the emperor. Two years later, alleging that the funding from the local government was insufficient, he requested additional funding. This time, Drummond suggested that he could raise the necessary funds without burdening the public coffers if he were allowed to implement legal lottery games (the Penal Code of 1890 forbad gambling) in the zoo. Among these was the jogo do bicho: a visitor to the zoo would get a ticket with the printed image of an animal; at the end of the day, a box that hung next to the entrance to the zoo would be opened. The box held a picture depicting the chosen animal of the day; the baron would select this animal earlier, on each day, from a list of 25 animals. The winning animal of the first draw, held in July 1892, was the ostrich. The winner won the sum of 20 mil-réis, or 20 times the price of the entrance ticket. Two weeks later, the winning image was that of a dog, and the lucky winner pocketed 2 contos de réis, proof of the swift increase in the number of visitors to the zoo because of the lottery game. Newspapers published news on the need for more seats on the trams to Vila Isabel and new tram lines were created to deal with the demand. Soon thereafter, the baron (a smart man) started offering entrance tickets to the zoo at points of sale downtown, which allowed people to play the lottery game without leaving the city. The definitive action for the success of the lottery game was to allow people to choose the animal they wanted to bet on when they bought the entrance ticket to the zoo. Thus, the lottery became a form of gambling.

The success of the game was overwhelming:  “The game is everything in Rio. No servants are available because they all spend the entire day buying the animal lottery tickets. Nobody works! Everybody just plays the lottery game,”   complained poet Olavo Bilac. “The institutionalization of the idea of political equality and the end of the imperial regime in a society where work was seen as a sign of slavery brought to life a speculative frenzy and consolidated a cheap, easy and unpretentious lottery game. This was further enhanced by a familiar, mythological and totem-like appeal that mapped and related animals, numbers and money and thus symbolically brought together the rich and the poor, the powerful and the downtrodden,”  points out DaMatta. The Republic, however, had risen with the intention of regulating a country where, the republicans claimed, the lassitude of the monarchy had condemned the country to underdevelopment.  “The State policed not only the powerful capitalists but also the small businesses and the street vendors – anything that was out of line with the legal limits of state regulation. This created a “gray area” of uncontrollable ventures that highlighted the transition from the Empire to the Republic. The jogo do bicho became increasingly popular and branched out into small businesses. The slack persecution of gambling thus gained a new objective: moral concern about the jogo do bicho did not materialize, not because the jogo do bicho was a form of gambling but because it was a kind of trade,”  analyzes Amy Chazkel. The historian says that the government stood to gain more from signing contracts with big companies than from allowing small store owners, interested in selling jogo do bicho lottery tickets along with their normal business activities, to take up the streets of the city with no constraints. “This is why the elite and the legislators complained stridently, by means of petitions and endless debates in Congress, which supports the general belief that every time a crowd gets together and money is circulated, people will find a way to circumvent the rules,”  the researcher points out.

The Republic also invested heavily in the consolidation of the concept of misdemeanor, or petty crime. “There was strong criticism against the former regime regarding how it had repressed activities that were viewed as offensive to good moral practices, such as loitering, laziness, drunkenness, gambling and capoeira [a Brazilian martial art]. In the opinion of the new republican government, imperial lassitude towards these offenses to –  morality and decency- revealed the decadence of the monarchy,” says Amy Chazkel. The “petty crime”  became a police obsession, as it affected a high number of people and was directly linked to police bureaucracy rather than to the judicial branch of government. Judges and police officers fought for power in terms of how to deal with the misdemeanor, thereby creating a conflict of interests: the judiciary had the last word on the legal status of the actions of the Police in the streets, but the latter’s authority very often overruled that of the judge and absolved the miscreant. This explains why nobody who sold the jogo do bicho lottery tickets was condemned up to 1917, because of  “absence of proof.”   “The lower income segment of the population suffered the collateral effects of this dispute, exacerbated by the transformation of the jogo do bicho into a misdemeanor, as the police officers fought for their territorial rights over the streets when they exerted their power to arrest and repress the miscreants. The Rio de Janeiro police force was loyal neither to the State nor to ordinary citizens, from whence its members came. They tended to deal with suspects based on their values and identities: someone  –  known to be a bookie – could be arrested even if he were not selling the lottery tickets,”  says Amy.  “More importantly, however, this modus operandi against the jogo do bicho was later transferred to the field of politics. The police force used the weapons developed to fight gambling and other petty crimes to repress the political dissent that was surfacing in the labor movement. A person could be arrested for being  “a well-known Communist leader”.”

GUILHERME LEPCAEven though the jogo do bicho was persecuted, it was never eradicated.  “One might say that the acquittal of the parties involved was the reaction of the judges to the overly strict actions of the police and their awareness of the police officers’ involvement with the miscreants. The jogo do bicho also survived because it had become an outlawed part of the police profession. Thus, all the parties involved, from judges to police officers, helped create an urban sub-world of misdemeanors,”  the researcher points out.  “As repression became stronger, the operators organized themselves to achieve the opposite effect. Repression was the element responsible for the organization of the game, uniting the operators and expelling the “amateurs” or temporary bookies. This is a typically Brazilian situation: persecution of the game generates popular approval, which provides it with social legitimacy against an elitist and ill-intentioned prohibition. The government becomes the common enemy and makes the police officers an easy prey for the operators, who corrupt the police,”  DaMatta agrees. For the operators, this kind of trade was a much more enticing career than working in a factory. The game became a totally normal aspect of daily life, especially at a time during which, as historian José Murilo de Carvalho pointed out in Os bestializados,  “the belief in luck as a means of getting rich quickly and effortlessly was widespread throughout Rio de Janeiro society in the early years of the Republic.”  This belief was caused by the intense financial speculation generated by the Encilhamento, which provided free credit and placed an enormous amount of money in circulation with no backing “the characteristic expression of  capitalism without the Protestant ethic.”   “Rightly so, Rio de Janeiro’s intellectuals used the jogo do bicho as a metaphor for the State’s financial speculation,” Amy points out . “If a banker can talk seriously about investment and if a politician can submit a bill of law inspired by liberalism, it stands to reason that the jogo do bicho is the cheap and popular version of these actions. If we imagine that the gambler who plays on the jogo do bicho is a humble speculator at the opposite end of the stick, one can say that he acts inspired by the same model, but he replaces the State by a dream, liberalism by a cosmology of animals and political patronage by guesses,”  says DaMatta.

In 1917, repression was stepped up with the so-called  “campanha mata-bicho”  or  “animal-kill campaign.”  Despite the latter, the illegal lottery game not only survived but emerged stronger, more concentrated and more professional, with a code of ethics that, for the population, was  “more reliable” than the ethics of the State. “One must keep in mind that, under this capitalist logic, the bookie was able to equal legal practices by transforming a piece of paper into a promissory note. The legendary trust in the bookies arose from the implicit contrast with the untrustworthy operators of the State. For most of the Brazilians who were not members of the elite, the State was a synonym for a corrupt judiciary system, period,”  says the historian.  “The popular and accessible bookies maintained a transient link with the gambler, but this link was underscored by loyalty and trust, because the two parties shared the same system of beliefs. Everyone was treated with respect. Citizens sought their political rights and respect. Therefore, this was not a defective society which gave value to easy money, as some critics state, but a society that defined the value of money as a privileged instrument to build up the “person”,”  DaMatta points out. He adds that the game adopts the capitalist promise of monetary success, thus providing a change in social status, though, unlike orthodox capitalism, it does not make its peace with an instituted social indifference or with an individualistic and market-oriented reduction.

A noteworthy feature of the jogo do bicho in its early years was its link with popular culture. Many of the early operators were pioneering entrepreneurs of national entertainment, such as Paschoal Segreto, one of the people who introduced cinema to Brazil. Before the feature film was projected, Segreto would show 26 commercials and always removed one of them on purpose, thus transforming the movie audience into participants in a gambling game similar to the jogo do bicho.  “For many natives of Rio de Janeiro, the jogo do bicho was their first contact with commercial public entertainment. New ventures became a strategy used by entrepreneurs in their quest to derive profit from the jogo do bicho. At the same time, the profits of the underworld allowed these same entrepreneurs to invest in show business or, in the case of Segreto, in cinema,” Amy points out.

Carnival would be the next step. “Right from the start, when the samba schools collected money for the parade, the jogo do bicho operators were among those who gave funds. As the city grew, the jogo do bicho kept up with the urban expansion, especially after gambling was forbidden by the Dutra Government in 1946. On the outskirts of the city throughout all these years, patronage took up the space in needy areas that public administration had disregarded,”  says anthropologist Laura Viveiros de Castro, from the Cultural Anthropology Department of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and author of Carnaval carioca: dos bastidores ao desfile.  “The samba school parades led to the positive integration of the operators with urban society. Samba schools that were not very competitive, such as Mocidade or Beija-Flor, started to compete in the Carnival parades because they were sponsored by the operators. This “modernization” reinforces the control of the jogo do bicho network over their territories, revealing a hierarchy of illegality in the city; it does not do away with the non-economic and interested element of the sponsorship of the jogo do bicho during Carnival. The sponsor’s money is also a  “social investment”  whose return is the prestige and acknowledgement of the population.”  “By involving themselves in the samba schools, the operators (the bookies are “employees”) achieved what they wanted in order to conduct their business activities in peace. I think it is possible that the connection with the samba schools has also been a form of money laundering,”  adds historian Luiz Antonio Machado Silva, from the Institute of University Research in Rio de Janeiro (Iuperj) and author, together with Fillipina Chineli, of the paper O vazio da ordem: relações e políticas entre as escolas de samba e o jogo do bicho. In their opinion, the “patronage”  was consolidated from the 1960s onward, which coincided with the time when the local, state and federal governments transferred the financial responsibility of Carnival from the public to the private sector. At the same time, Carnival changed its aesthetics from “festivity”  to “show,”  which drove production costs up. The operators took over and the peak of the relationship occurred in 1985, with the creation of the Liesa league of samba schools, which ratified the operators’ domain over the samba schools and related them to public entities.  “In a way, little by little, the government authorities  “allowed”  the samba schools to become controlled by the operators. The lower income segment of the population does not stand to gain anything from this situation, because they are still in a lower position, one of political and ideological submission,”  says Silva.  “The samba schools accept this kind of support quietly, without questioning its legitimacy because of the social-cultural insertion of the jogo do bicho. Samba itself had to become legitimate and legal when it organized itself into samba schools, and thus move from “transgression”  to “order.”  “At the same time, samba and the jogo do bicho were always inter-related because they were common to the same social strata,”  the researcher adds.

The relationship became  “professional”  because of Liesa, which, controlled by the jogo do bicho operators, began to act as an intermediary in the relationship between the State, the market, and the community. The samba schools began to self-finance themselves, thanks to their earnings from TV broadcasts, records, etc., but the “owners of  the samba schools”  still reap the social and political dividends of their  “patronage”  of the parades and of charity work without, however, taking money out of their pockets to this end. At election time, access to the jogo do bicho and to the samba schools is crucial and the operators have managed to reap both benefits.  “Because of their social network, their ability to dominate, and their political importance, jogo do bicho operators ran an organization that was in some ways similar to the American gambling mafia for a long time, though smaller in scale,”  says social scientist Michel Misse, a professor at the Department of Sociology of UFRJ and author of the paper Mercados ilegais, redes de proteção e organização local do crime no Rio de Janeiro.  “Until drug trafficking came into the shantytowns, the jogo do bicho was the most important, traditional, and powerful illegal market. Its ability to draw a labor force from the criminal underworld was always powerful, mainly because it offered jobs and protection to former convicts.”

Some people state that the connection between the jogo de bicho and drug trafficking in Rio de Janeiro still exists, even though the magnitude of this union is a source of controversy among specialists.  “In the late 1970’s, the press had already unveiled the networking between jogo do bicho and drug trafficking. The link between jogo do bicho and drug trafficking possibly still exists, but during the 1990s, the jogo do bicho showed clear signs of decadence while drug trafficking showed clear signs of growth. This does not mean that operators and bookies migrated from the jogo do bicho to drug trafficking. In fact, drug trafficking no longer bases its operations on the jogo do bicho as it had in its early days. It seems that drug dealers absorbed the lessons taught by the operators regarding the corruption of police officers and government authorities, the ways to invest in order to gain support (such as support of communities, clubs, etc.), the ways of investing money, etc.,”  says geographer Helio de Araujo Evangelista, a professor at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) and author of Rio de Janeiro: violência, jogo do bicho e narcotráfico. The jogo do bicho operators are moving into another field of business. “The operators’ heirs replaced the jogo do bicho with the control of the distribution of slot machines in bars and illegal bingo venues in the cities, with the support of police officers,”  says Misse.