On July 25, 1907, two police soldiers banged on the door of
the home of Carlos Figueiredo, a forty-four-year-old gilder, in
a working-class neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Figueiredo’s
wife answered the door, and the two men entered without her
consent and proceeded to rifle through his possessions. The
police finally found the evidence they sought stuffed behind
the statues of saints on Figueiredo’s household altar: seventy-
eight torn slips of paper with handwritten columns of num-
bers on them.∞ Most Brazilians today would readily identify
the bits of paper the police found over a century ago as tickets
for the clandestine lottery called the jogo do bicho (the animal
game). Long disassociated from the zoo in Rio de Janeiro that
gave it its name, the jogo do bicho still exists throughout Bra-
zil. All that is required to play is a few cents, the ability to walk
to the street corner, a bit of luck, and a willingness to risk
arrest. Ticket buyers wager small amounts of money in the
hope of multiplying their investment twentyfold or more.
Today, as they did a century ago, jogo do bicho dealers con-
sistently honor their pledge to pay any player who selected
the winning number.
This book owes its existence to the paper trail that this
and thousands of other stories left behind in over a century of
the persistence—and illegality—of the jogo do bicho. The
jogo do bicho first spread through Rio de Janeiro, then the
nation’s capital, as a diffuse practice of questionable legality
in the 1890s. It soon became a prominent feature of the city’s
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