Laws of Chance

Brazil’s Clandestine Lottery and the Making of Urban Public Life

Laws of Chance

Radical Perspectives

More about this series

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 30 photos, 11 tables, 3 maps Published: June 2011

Author: Amy Chazkel

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Sociology > Urban Studies

The lottery called the jogo do bicho, or “animal game,” originated as a raffle at a zoo in Rio de Janeiro in 1892. During the next decade, it became a cultural phenomenon all over Brazil, where it remains popular today. Laws of Chance chronicles the game’s early history, as booking agents, dealers, and players spread throughout Rio and the lottery was outlawed and driven underground. Analyzing the game’s popularity, its persistence despite bouts of state repression, and its sociocultural meanings, Amy Chazkel unearths a rich history of popular participation in urban public life in the decades after the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the establishment of the Brazilian republic in 1889. Contending that the jogo do bicho was a precursor to the massive informal economies that developed later in the twentieth century, she sheds new light on the roots of the informal trade that is central to daily life in urban Latin America. The jogo do bicho operated as a form of unlicensed petty commerce in the vast gray area between the legal and the illegal. Police records show that players and ticket sellers were often arrested but rarely prosecuted. Chazkel argues that the animal game developed in dialogue with the official judicial system. Ticket sellers, corrupt police, and lenient judges worked out a system of everyday justice that would characterize public life in Brazil throughout the twentieth century.


Laws of Chance is an engaging and well-written text that sheds light on a popular Brazilian practice that goes beyond the confines of rudimentary
play. For those who study the political and moral economies of games, the relationship between formal and informal economies, and petty commerce; Chazkel has raised the intellectual stakes.” — Manuella Meyer, The Latin Americanist

“Carefully crafted and theoretically informed, Chazkel’s thought-provoking book joins recent works by Brodwyn Fischer and Janice Perlman to deepen our understanding of lower-class life in twentieth-century Rio de Janeiro and the important, if often misinterpreted, relationship between state and society. . . . Her account of the complex interaction between state and society moves us far beyond superficial understandings based on models of repression and resistance and deepens our understanding of Latin America’s urban modernity.” — Hendrik Kraay, The Americas

“Chazkel has provided a terrific account of the formation of modern Brazil and a valuable source for understanding the injustices still underlying
contemporary politics.” — Peter Kingstone, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“This intriguing study carefully considers the game from its modest beginnings up through its florescence as a virtual “culture industry” in Brazil.” — Andrew Grant Wood, American Historical Review

Laws of Chance is well written, and a joy to read. Methodologically, Chazkel offers a deft interweaving of social and jurisprudential theory with a detailed examination of historical experience….  Laws of Chance exposes a fascinating and hitherto unexplored segment of turn-of-the-twentiethcentury business and city life in Rio de Janeiro to the light of day. The book also offers an excellent example of the ways in which business and cultural history intersect and can reinforce each other.” — Gail Triner,, Business History Review

Laws of Chance is that rare monograph that truly delivers on the promise of its subtitle...Chazkel's study rises to the forefront of the new wave of social history that has succeeded in pushing well beyond the tired binaries of repression/resistance and agency/subjugation.”  — Zephyr Frank, Journal of Social History

Laws of Chance is well-written and free of jargon, effectively weaving description and analysis with great historical imagination and theoretical relevance. The book is appropriate for undergraduate and graduate courses focusing on urban studies, modern Latin American state-society relations, postabolition citizenship, and the development of informal economies. Its importance to all these fields reflects how the book, by historicizing the jogo do bicho and the ambiguous, informal world it inhabited, advances important disciplinary and interdisciplinary arguments about extralegality, citizenship, and urban development.” — Patricia Acerbi, Hispanic American Historical Review

"Written with authority, from an intense historiographical debate to a careful use of varied resources, Chazkel’s book succeeds in balancing the many facets of the craft of history in a stimulating narrative and a pleasant read." — Kaori Kodama, Bulletin of Latin American Research

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.” — Shawn Stein, Studies in Latin American Popular Culture

“This is a comprehensive study, indispensable for those interested in understanding Rio de Janeiro during the early republican years. More generally, due to its sophisticated analysis, the book will also be useful for scholars and students interested in early Twentieth-century Brazil and Latin America in general.” — Rosana Barbosa, Canadian Journal of History

“[R]ichly researched…. This study… has broader relevance to contemporary debates on the root of drug trafficking and urban violence in late twentieth-century Brazil. It will enrich the reading list of graduate seminars on the making of the informal sector, urbanization, and legal cultures in Latin America in the twentieth century.” — Martine Jean, History: Reviews of New Books

"Chazkel’s book is insightful and well crafted, providing an in-depth look at one of the practices most commonly associated with the origins of Brazil’s current corruption."  — Manuel Balan, Latin American Research Review

“Focusing on a fascinating place and time, Amy Chazkel casts unprecedented light on the tangled relations among gambling, market culture, and the modern state. She also tells a lot of good stories. Laws of Chance is a delight to read, as well as a major work of imaginative historical scholarship.” — Jackson Lears, author of Something for Nothing: Luck in America

“Taking the origins and evolution of a seemingly innocuous and commonplace informal lottery—the Brazilian ‘animal game’—as a foundation, this study builds concentric rings of information and analysis to explore relationships between law and practice, state and society, formal institutions and everyday life. The result is an illuminating essay on modernity and urban culture more broadly.” — Thomas Holloway, University of California, Davis


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Amy Chazkel is Associate Professor of History, City University of New York, Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Tables xi

About the Series xiii

Acknowledgments xv

A Note on Brazilian Currency and Orthography xix

Introduction 1

1. Origins of the Jogo do Bicho 27

2. The Rules of the Game 69

3. An Underworld of Goods 101

4. Playing with Money in Republican Rio de Janeiro 141

5. Lives of the Players 165

6. Vale o Escrito 205

Epilogue 253

Notes 269

Glossary of Portuguese Terms 313

Bibliography 315

Index 339
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, Latin American Studies Association Brazil Section Book Award

Winner, 2012 NECLAS Best Book Prize

Winner, 2012 William Hurst Prize (presented by the Law & Society Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4988-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4973-0
Publicity material