Shawn Blore
Tel:(55) 21-8102-4706

Shawn Blore
Tel:(55) 21-8102-4706

Shawn Blore
Tel:(55) 21-8102-4706

The Globe and Mail, Saturday, February 28, 2004 -- Page F3




A corruption scandal involving one of his party officials and a high-level bookie threatens Luiz da Silva's moral crusade. SHAWN BLORE reports

RIO DE JANEIRO -- His office is a crate on the sidewalk, in a part of Rio de Janeiro where the street vendors gather by day and the prostitutes stroll by night, yet this wheezing 50ish man has done what Brazil's financial and political elite could not: He has stopped reformist President Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva in his tracks, at least for the moment.

The man known as Albino, for his shock of white hair, is a bicheiro, a bookie for Brazil's incredibly popular and illegal jogo do bicho, the "animal lottery." Like hundreds of other bicheiros across Rio, and thousands of others in Brazil, Albino sells small slips of paper offering the chance to win up to 4,000 reals (about $2,000) in one of three daily draws.

"Everybody plays," Albino says. "Businessmen. Engineers. Bus drivers. Maids."

On a daily basis, he brings in about 500 reals ($250), 90 per cent of which he has to pass up the food chain to a mid-level bicheiro, who controls about 25 stands throughout the city.

Assuming Albino's sales are typical, this one network is collecting about 12,000 reals a day, some of which gets passed up to a higher-level bookie, whose daily take from his network is probably closer to 200,000 reals. Assuming conservatively that there are just 10 high-level networks across Brazil, the animal lottery brings in at least two million reals daily, and likely much more.

It is this large pool of ready cash that has turned the animal lottery into a nightmare for Mr. da Silva and his socialist Workers Party (known by its Portuguese acronym, PT).

Looking for campaign funds in the run-up to the 2002 presidential election, a PT official named Waldomiro Diniz, then serving as the head of the Rio de Janeiro state lottery corporation, solicited a donation from a high-level bicheiro, Carlos Augusto Ramos, a.k.a. Carlos Cachoeira (Charlie Waterfall in English). Mr. Diniz planned to take 1 per cent of the money as a personal commission, and promised to use his influence on the bookie's behalf once in government.
Unknown to both, the incident was caught on videotape, a copy of which was recently obtained and broadcast in a nationwide exposť by Brazilian newsmagazine Epoca.

For a President who styled his campaign as a moral crusade against corruption, the revelation was a disaster, made worse when it was revealed days later that in 2003 Mr. Diniz, by then a senior aide to the President's powerful chief of staff, had attempted to steer a huge lottery contract into the hands of his generous bicheiro friend.

Mr. Diniz was fired. PT officials tried to claim that his attempted influence-peddling had nothing to do with the government, because the incident took place before Mr. da Silva and the PT took power.

Unconvinced, Brazilian opposition parties began calling for a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into alleged connections between bicheiros and PT candidates. Under the Brazilian system, a parliamentary inquiry requires the support of 27 members of the 81-member senate. So far, 21 senators have said they support calling an inquiry.

Carlos Cachoeira was also revealed to be part or full owner of numerous bingo halls, which it was alleged he was using to launder his jogo do bicho takings. In response, on Carnaval Sunday, Mr. da Silva ordered Brazil's bingo halls closed by special presidential decree.

On Carnaval Monday, in the midst of a national holiday, the President rearranged his schedule to make a radio broadcast in which he reiterated that there was no proof that Mr. Diniz had done anything illegal in his government role. Should further accusations arise, Mr. da Silva promised, the federal police would have complete autonomy to investigate.

Appearances aside, he said, his government was not experiencing a crisis. "At no point could any person in Brazil imagine that any accusation could cause a political crisis in this country," he said, adding that "I have learned in one year as President to never lose my calm, to always retain peace of mind, because my tranquillity is something I can pass on to the people."

Meanwhile, Mr. da Silva's inner cabinet has been recalled from holidays for an emergency meeting. The President, who spent his first year in office dealing with government debt and soaring interest rates, had planned in his second year to move on to core PT issues such as land reform and bringing down Brazil's double-digit unemployment rate. However, the sole topic of the special cabinet meeting is the scandal caused by jogo do bicho.

The animal lottery has been a problem for governments since its invention more than 100 years ago in 1892.
The game was created by the Baron of Drummond, the cash-strapped owner of Rio de Janeiro's zoo, who decided to boost flagging attendance by holding a daily draw. Visitors were given a ticket with a picture of one of the zoo's animals. At the end of the day, the Baron would spin a wheel festooned with animals to select the winner.

Tickets were soon being bought by those who hadn't even visited the zoo. Within months, government authorities made its first attempt to shut down the game. The animal lottery simply shifted to a new habitat in the city centre, an environment in which it has thrived ever since. Rudyard Kipling, visiting Rio in the 1920s, wrote of seeing bookies wandering the streets carrying placards with colourful pictures of animals.

These days, bicheiros have neither placards nor signs. They're identifiable only by the small list of winning numbers posted on a nearby wall or lamppost, or in Albino's case, on the front of his wooden crate.

Whatever the advertising, however, the essence of the game remains unchanged.

There are 25 different animals, each of which is assigned a sequence of four consecutive numbers. Ostrich is 01 to 04, horse 41-44, camel 29-32, and so on up to cow, which occupies 95-99. The most common way to play is to bet one real on an animal. If the last two numerals in the daily state lottery draw form one of the four numbers designated by your animal, the bicheiro owes you 15 reals. For longer odds and higher payouts, you can try to pick the last three or even four numbers exactly, or you can choose a combination of a number and numerals designated by an animal.

Over the decades, superstitious theory has evolved around selecting the proper animal, much of it involving dreams. Horse, for example, can be indicated by a dream of a horse, or by dreams of wheat or milk or naked women.

In the 20 minutes or so it takes Albino to explain the game and its attendant dream theory, three people stop to place a total of 12 reals in bets. According to Albino, the President's political problems haven't affected his business at all.

Shawn Blore is a freelance correspondent based in Rio de Janeiro

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