Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO – In 1884, Mr. Drummond, a local merchant, bought the Fazenda dos Macacos (the Monkey Farm). He installed a zoo, which prospered until government subsidies ceased. Rather than close it down and sell off the animals, he listened to a Mexican adventurer and happily adopted an adaptation to the “Juego de las Flores”, subsequently raking in godzillions of simoleons.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

What the Baron did was take 25 animals from his zoo, make picture cards of each, and then adorn the entry tickets with pictures of all of them. Every morning, he put the picture of one animal in a locked vault and every afternoon at 5PM he opened it, stuck it on a tree in the Zoo and if you had the same animal pictured on your ticket, you won moolah galore.

Yes! Money for Nothing! The zoo was no longer in dire straits , because the number of visitors to the zoo multiplied, and (not coincidentally) the Baron only gave back a smallish part of what people paid, using the rest to feed the animals.

In 1895, the spoilsport mayor of Rio decreed that the Zoo should no longer be a den of iniquity. Unfortunately for him, the Baron had already developed a scheme where tickets were sold all over town, and bookmakers were sprouting up like mushrooms.

After the Baron died in 1897, the Jogo do Bicho really took off, notwithstanding federal state and municipal decrees that made it illegal, causing persecution and occasional prosecution to this day.

In the game, there are 25 animals, each of which is assigned its own two digit number, ranging from one to 100 in roughly alphabetical order. So, Avestruz (Ostrich) is animal number one, corresponding to numbers one to four; Vaca (Cow) is animal number 25 and corresponds to numbers 97-00.

Each number drawn has four digits, and there are four chances to win: the animal, the last two digit “dezena”, the last three digit “centena” and the last four digit “milhar”. The prizes are multiples of what you bet .

So, for getting the animal right, you are paid eighteen times the amount of your bet. For the “dezena”, you are paid sixty times, for the “centena” 500 times and for the “milhar” 4,000 times. “Wow!” saith you! “4,000 times!!!”

“Thou fool!” saith the Curmudgeon, who hath done the odds. Do the numbers, assuming there are 100 bets, each on a different two digit number. For the Animal, if they pay you eighteen and the same to the three players who bet the other winning numbers, they pay out 72—but they took in 100, hence the house take is 28 percent.

For the “dezena”, it’s forty percent , for the “centena” it’s fifty percent and for the “milhar” it’s sixty percent. To hit all 4 numbers exactly is a one in 10,000 chance—but they pay you 4,000, meaning they keep 6,000. Now you know why the numbers are NEVER fixed, and why you NEVER can win.

Postscript: “You cannot walk among palm-trees with impunity, and your sentiments must surely alter in a land where elephants [number 12!] and tigers [#22!] are at home.” (Goethe, Elective Affinities, 1809)

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


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