- Laws of Chance: Brazil’s Clandestine Lottery and the Making of Urban Public Life by Amy Chazkel
By focusing on the intersections of urbanization, organized crime, and public identity in modern Brazil, Laws of Chance offers a unique perspective that seems to embody the politically engaged spirit of the Duke University Press Radical Book series. This extensive study offers a meticulous reconstruction of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro through the lens of the jogo do bicho, or “animal game,” the popular clandestine lottery that began in 1892, when João Baptista Vianna Drummond, the owner of Rio de Janeiro’s private zoo, began awarding prizes through a legally sanctioned raffle tied to animals printed on entry tickets. As the jogo evolved, bancas de revista and other small shops around town began operating a corresponding lottery, which quickly spread throughout the nation, eventually allowing players to bet on combinations of twenty-five different animals and numerical series paired with the national lottery. The jogo’s rise in popularity contributed to an 1895 law that began a long history of tentative official attempts to limit, and ultimately prohibit, unlicensed games of chance. This study highlights the clandestine evolution of the jogo by portraying the persistent gap between formal penal codes and policing practices found at the core of its oscillating history of prohibition and tolerance. By exploring the symbolic meanings found in the mechanisms that support the persistence of underground business and gambling in Brazil, Amy Chazkel goes well beyond simply documenting a history of the jogo.
The author places the uncertain legal status of the jogo as a foregrounding social element during the First Republic (1889–1930), a period of major reform that followed the abolition of slavery (1888) and the fall of the Brazilian monarchy (1889). Laws of Chance describes at length how the commoditized relationships among the jogo’s participants, including players, bicheiros (bookmakers), police, judges, and politicians, all played a unique role in determining the ethos and thus the transfer of power from rural oligarchy to urban centers that occurred during this time. Chazkel exhausts an impressive collection of materials (e.g., legal documents, newspaper articles, cartoons, crônicas, fiction, poetry, and literatura de cordel) to interpret [End Page 193] the ambivalence surrounding the evolving legal and social landscapes during the jogo’s early years. As she asserts, “The jogo do bicho is but one example of many of how the livelihoods and avocations of the popular classes aroused official suspicion even though they directly threatened neither life, limb, nor private property” (17). This study offers thoughtful accounts of how, over the course of nearly a half century, moral hygiene projects pushed popular practices such as street vending and petty gambling toward criminalization. As the author states, “Like risqué samba lyrics, games of chance fell outside the realm of popular culture the ruling classes welcomed into the national fold” (250).
Chazkel makes use of police and court records both to personalize the jogo’s history and to demonstrate how, in spite of spurts of high arrest rates, players and bicheiros were rarely prosecuted. Chapters 1 and 2 explain the origins and mechanisms of criminalization attempts. Chapters 3 and 4 connect the monetary value of the jogo with rising informal economies. Chapter 5 offers interpretations of jogo-themed cultural production. The foregrounding of the first five chapters culminates in Chapter 6, where she uses the 1917 crackdown known as the kill-the-animal campaign as a point of departure for explaining the interplay between jogo culture and labor unrest, pointing to an underlying connection of solidarity against authoritarian state repression during the first decades of the First Republic, including perceived threats to social order presented by unfolding world events such as the Mexican Revolution and local organized protests over social inequality. Later, a 1946 law criminalizing most gambling led to a more organized underground operation, but by then, as the author points out, the jogo’s resilience established in the early years...