In Zimbabwe, gambling has conventionally always been frowned upon as a social vice and vanity. Where it occurred, it was limited to the state lottery, horse betting and an odd casino.
Now, the tide has shifted. Sports betting shops, casinos and lottery gaming are cropping up rapidly in the country’s major urban centres as punters strive to make an extra coin and satisfy a growing appetite for gaming and gambling. Activity usually peaks when the football leagues around the world start.
Driven by rising poverty and unemployment levels currently estimated at 5.4% by the International Labour Organisation, many ordinary citizens, especially the youth because of being un-employed are increasingly turning to gambling.
Zimbabwe’s economy is in a fragile state with an unsustainably high external debt of around US$9.9 billion. This has led to a massive death of industries and high levels of self employment, capped in part by chronic liquidity challenges, structural bottlenecks that include power shortages, an infrastructure deficit and a constrained fiscal space.
“The industry has evolved with the advent of various players coming on board and offering diverse products, not necessarily related to thoroughbred horse racing. Products such as sports betting have begun trending. Other establishments have also introduced lotteries, scratch cards and limited pay-out machines outside the confines of traditional casino settings,”
Most of Zimbabwe’s major towns now have gambling businesses, with the capital Harare being the main hub. Most resort hotels also have casinos which are popular with tourists. The Lotteries and Gambling Board is the country’s regulatory body responsible for controlling and monitoring operations of the gambling industry through the Lotteries and Gaming Act which came into operation in 2000. The board also issues licenses to gaming operators.
Social commentators say gambling has its good and bad side. Edmos Mtetwa, a lecturer at the School of Social Work in Harare, sees the increasing rate of gambling as a social disease, motivated by economic reasons.
“Gambling became more rampant during the difficult years that preceded the introduction of the multiple currency system in Zimbabwe in 2009. It has now become a source or an additional source of livelihood for many,” he says.
Mr. Mtetwa, however, does not think gambling will provide solutions to socio-economic problems. “It will not alleviate poverty but instead swindle punters of hard-earned cash in addition to breeding a generation of young people who do not know right from wrong.”
Labour economist Godfrey Kanyenze says gambling has always been practised in the country but has grown in the recent past due to economic desperation and people trying to leverage for some income.
“People are under pressure from a non-performing economy so they are looking for quick wins because ordinary mechanisms for acquiring assets are limited,” noted Mr. Kanyenze, adding that the scale of gambling would lessen if the economy improved.
But Mr. Mhembere argues that socially, gambling is a form of recreation that can be lucrative to punters. “Social demand for gambling has improved with the advent of sports betting as the youth can now infuse their sporting interests with gaming interests. Economically, big bets laid on big events have the propensity to generate huge incomes for the entities involved,” he says.
With a combined population of over a billion people, many of whom are poor, gambling is becoming a popular activity in Africa. Legal casinos are known to operate in many countries among them Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana,Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Gambia, Gabon, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana. But while the gambling industry in Zimbabwe is experiencing phenomenal growth, it contrasts with developments elsewhere in Africa where the industry is reportedly moderating.
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