Jogo do Bicho

Maria do Carmo Andrade
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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 ‘Jogo do Bicho’ is a gambling game similar to a federal lottery, however among other differences, in ‘jogo do bicho’ a player can bet any amount and the prise is proportional to this amount bet. The origin of the game is from the end of the Empire and the beginning of the Republic of Brazil.

Making up part of the ‘tabela dos bichos’ (game’s table) are 25 animals, each one corresponding to four ‘dezenas’ (numbers), totalling 100 final numbers in the draws. The game’s table is as follows:

Tabela dos Bichos

Groups Numbers Groups Numbers

1-ostrich (avestruz)01-02-03-0414-cat (gato)53-54-55-56
2-eagle (águia)05-06-07-0815-alligator (jacaré)57-58-59-60
3-donkey (burro)09-10-11-1216-lion (leão)61-62-63-64
4-butterfly (borboleta)13-14-15-1617-monkey (macaco)65-66-67-68
5-dog (cachorro)17-18-19-2018-pig (porco)69-70-71-72
6-goat (cabra)21-22-23-2419-peacock (pavão)73-73-75-76
7-sheep (carneiro)25-26-27-2820-turkey (peru)77-78-79-80
8-camel (camelo)29-30-3103221-bull (touro)81-82-83-84
9-snake (cobra)33-34-35-5622-tiger (tigre)85-86-87-88
10-rabbit (coelho)37-38-39-4023-bear (urso)89-90-91-92
11-horse (cavalo)41-42-43-4424-deer (veado)93-94-95-96
12-elephant (elefante)45-46-47-4825-cow (vaca)97-98-99-00
13-rooster (galo)49-50-51-52  

 The number of the animal is called the group. To know which the animal (group) is, divide the number by 4 and if there is a remainder, add one to the quotient. E.g.: 33 divided by 4 equals 8, remainder 1, therefore the group is 9, which is “snake”.

The Animal Game was created by Baron João Batista Viana Drummond, a native of Rio de Janeiro who lived at the end of the 19th century. The Baron of Drummond was a businessman of great prestige in the Court, participating in many endeavours and investments and was a shareholder in the Ferro Carril Vila Isabel Company.

Vila Isabel was the first planned neighbourhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The neighbourhood’s creation project provided for the setting up of a park and zoo, and this zoo would later be the birthplace of the game.

The (then) Commander Drummond, on learning of the project, requested permission to install the zoo in 1884. Four years later, in July 1888, was the official inauguration of the enterprise that became a success. In the same year, Drummond received the title of Baron from Emperor Pedro II.

In 1890, the Baron, executing the second part of the project, increased the installations of the zoo and created a park with exotic plants. However, the zoo’s financial situation, which was already difficult despite receiving financial support from the city, worsened with the park’s creation.

The budget was already not enough to cover the expenses in feeding the animals and maintaining the park. The Baron tried to solve the problem by charging admission to visitors, but this measure was not well received and provoked a contrary effect: the visitors to the zoo disappeared.

The Baron turned, once again, to the Municipal Superintendence, looking to obtain a licence to hold lawful public games on zoo grounds, as a means to bring back the visiting public. The licence was granted as long as games of chance were not included, conforming to what had been established in the Penal Code of 1890.

Mexican Ismael Zevada, the Baron’s assistant, with the intention of contributing to solving the problem, mentioned the “flower game” that existed in his homeland and which could be adapted to “animals”. The idea was analysed and put into practice: 25 squares were painted, each one with an animal, numbered from 1. Before the zoo opened, the Baron would choose a painting and put it in a box strategically located at the entrance. On each ticket there was the figure of one of the twenty-five animals. At 3pm, the box was opened and those who had tickets with the chosen animal were the winners of a cash prize.

The first draw occurred on Sunday, 3 July 1892. The selected animal was the ostrich. On this occasion there was other entertainment also available to the public, but the ‘jogo do bicho’ drew the most attention and had the biggest repercussion in the daily press, more so than the reopening of the zoo itself.

The Jornal do Brasil, Jornal do Commercio, O Paiz, Diário de Notícias, Gazeta de Notícias and O Tempo reported the events. Some confirmed the large number of visitors included authorities, politicians and lords and ladies of Rio’s high society, while others reported which animal was drawn and the new tram lines created especially to increase access to the Zoo.

Soon the zoo transformed into a popular place of leisure. Two weeks after the first draw, the value of the prize had quadrupled. The animal ticket buyers were so many that more than once there were disturbances at the location and the Baron was forced to call the police to restore order.

The zoo was transformed into a place for gambling; the situation became a scandal that displeased the authorities. The Baron could not have imagined that he was starting one of the most popular and polemic games in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

Before the conflicts, Mayor Werneck de Almeida published Decree 133 in 1895, which prohibited the animal draws on the zoological grounds. At this point the game tickets began to be sold on Ouvidor St, which was at the time the busiest in Rio de Janeiro and was far from the gates of the zoo.

During this period, bookmakers were opened, gambling houses that sold poules (pools) for a wide range of permitted-or-not bets, including the ‘jogo do bicho’, which had passed their validity for four days. In this way, the gambler did not need to go to the zoo nor be present at the time of the draw.

Besides the bookmakers, the Baron spread his agents through the city to sell the animal tickets, with the participation of these roaming salesmen being very important to the success of the game amongst gamblers. To be sold in the streets, the ‘jogo do bicho’ underwent various adaptations: the first was to link the animals to numbers, and later came the division into groups and numbers.

In 1897 the Barão de Drummond died, but the game continued. In 1899, Law 628 was passed which instituted a penalty of three months imprisonment for those convicted of playing the ‘jogo do bicho’.

The press contributed to the legalising of the ‘jogo do bicho’. In the first decades of the 20th century, various periodicals were created simply for the game. In 1903, O Bicho began to circulate, the first periodical dedicated to the game, but later came the Talismã and the Mascotte.

In 1915, Senator Érico Coelho presented a bill to legalise the ‘jogo do bicho’, but it wasn’t approved. According to Magalhães (2006), the public power responsible for the Federal Capital was never able to form an effective strategy to combat the “bicheiros” (those who controlled the game) or make it clear that some lotteries were allowed and others were not.

In 1941, ‘jogo do bicho’ was included in the Law of Criminal Misdemeanours. Cavalcanti (1995) states that after 1946, with repeal of all operating licences granted to gambling houses in Brazil, ‘jogo do bicho’ expanded even more, accompanying the growth in outlying suburbs.

The ‘bicheiro’ was known for honouring to word, gaining with this the trust and respect of the gambler, who received personal assistance and public benefits in exchange for their loyalty.

In this way, the ‘jogo do bicho’, although persecuted, became a part of everyday life, folklore and the lives of Brazilian people, having been the reason for a lot of disagreements and unhappiness, sadness and joy. It has been a part of song lyrics, screenplays, soap operas and themes of samba schools. It has also been the subject for academic works, books, magazine articles and many newspaper headlines. Its history has been suffocated many times, pushed to the margins of society, but it continues to be ever-present in popular culture.

‘Jogo do bicho’ vocabulary:

Acertar – win
Apostar – play
Banqueiro – person who finances the game, banker
Bicheiro – owner of the bank
Cambista – banker’s employee
Dar na cabeça – win the first prize
Descarregar – transfer some of the bets to another bank owner
Fazer uma fezinha – play
Palpite – a tip on which animal will be drawn
Ponto – place where the game is played
Prêmio – list of results
Pule – from the French ‘poule’ – game ticket
Quebrar a banca – win a big prize

Recife, 27 March 2009.
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


CARRADORE, Hugo Pedro. Folclore do jogo do bicho. Piracicaba,SP: Edições da Tribuna Piracicabana, 1979.

CAVALCANTI, Maria Laura V. de C. O mecenato do jogo do bicho no carnaval carioca. Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Sociologia, 1995.

JOGO do Bicho (foto neste texto). Disponível em: <www.riototal.com.br/riolindo/tur051.htm>. Acesso em: 27 mar. 2009.

MAGALHÃES Felipe. Os bichos fugiram do Zôo! Revista de História da Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, v. 1, n. 12, p. 16-25, set. 2006.

TAHAN, Malba. O jogo do bicho à luz da Matemática. Curitiba: Grafiper, [1976?].


Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Jogo do Bicho (Aminal Game). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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