Brazil has a long and complicated history when it comes to gambling in general and poker in particular. The latest development, according to an article published on CardsChat*, the country has passed a law banning the playing of online poker in public. Anyone caught using their mobile device to access an online poker site while in a public space now faces a stiff fine and, in certain cases, potentially a short jail sentence.

*: The CardsChat article cites Brazilian legal site JusBrasil but doesn’t provide a link and I was unable to locate the source article or post.

The road to regulation

At first glance, it may seems surprising that the Brazilian government would clamp down in this way, given that the overall trend seems to have been towards increased acceptance. Although it’s illegal to operate a poker website out of Brazil, no attempt has been made to prevent foreign sites from accepting Brazilian customers. In 2011, the country declared poker to be a game of skill, and poker tournaments to be akin to sporting events, thus exempting poker from the country’s blanket ban on gambling; among other things, this has led to the rise of the Brazil Series of Poker (BSOP) and this year’s hosting of the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) Grand Final in Sao Paulo.

The government has also been promising that it is working towards regulated online poker, but with the caveat that such legislation will take years to iron out. Given that seemingly positive attitude towards poker, it might seem surprising to some that the government would restrict and punish online players with such a law.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that “regulated” poker is just that, and it’s to be expected that it will come with restrictions. When it comes to other products which countries regulate – alcohol, drugs, tobacco, pornography, sex work and so on – there are inevitably lots of little laws which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and which can at times seem arbitrary. There’s no reason it should be any different for poker.

Public consumption is advertising

Moreover, the law doesn’t seem particularly arbitrary to me. When you consume a product, engage in an activity or make use of a service in public, you are effectively advertising that thing, whether you intend to do so or not. In fact, the effectiveness of this form of marketing – simply allowing people to be seen enjoying your product or service in public – is such that it has its own term: “stealth marketing.”

In that regard, banning the playing of online poker in public makes perfect sense. Public smoking bans aren’t just about second hand smoke, and many places ban public drinking even if you’re not getting outright drunk. To some extent, such laws are there to avoid moral outrage from the more prudish citizens, but they also serve a valuable purpose in terms of reducing societal pressure towards potentially addictive, compulsive and/or harmful products and behaviours in the same way as there are limitations and sometimes outright bans on how these things can be commercially advertised.

In my mind, then, this move is actually consistent with Brazil’s road to regulation, rather than a reversal of course. In fact, I suspect that it’s fair to expect other such restrictions both in Brazil and other jurisdictions where the battle for legal but regulated poker is underway, including in the United States. The behavior of the players is as important to the integrity of poker as the behavior of the sites, after all, so it would be unreasonable to assume that the latter should be regulated and the former given free rein.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.