BY TATENDA CHITAGU
When a local pub in the southern city of Masvingo introduced four casino slot machines, Tendai Moyo* went there “just for the fun of it”.
After all, it was his first time to gamble.A few days later, he won US$1 000 and that was to mark the start of his addiction to legal gambling.
Thinking he would win again, he got hooked up and started playing almost every day.But as each day passed, it marked his losses and that initial $1 000 he won was offset by the more thousands he was to bet without winning.“My business that was doing well collapsed,” he said.
“Soon I started borrowing money to fund my casino addiction thinking I would win. Things started turning upside down for me.”
Like Don Williams sang in his 1976 song, The Gambler, whose lyrics go: If you gonna play the game, boy you gotta play it right… You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away, know when to run, Moyo could not tell when enough was enough.
His grocery shop in nearby Rujeko high-density suburb went bust.
He would sometimes order his few employees to bring him cash for betting at the nearby pub — the first ever to bring the slot machines to the country’s oldest urban settlement, while abandoning other obligations of the business.
“I got so obsessed and the thinking that I would win again kept on pushing me to carry on, against advice from relatives,” Moyo added.
“I could not restock, or pay my workers.
“But I then reached a stage where I realised I was pouring money into a bottomless pit and relatives counselled me. I regret ever gambling in the first place.”
Now he says he is a pale shadow of his former self as the addiction not only cost him his thriving businesses, but his social life as well.
“I broke up with my wife of more than 15 years,” he added. “She gave up on me after all the little empire that I had laboured for over the years crumbled in one year.
“I sold my car. Later, I was to relocate from the city altogether to my rural area.”
Moyo’s situation reflects that of thousands of unemployed Zimbabweans who have turned to betting for survival and created a “casino economy”.
An estimated 20 000 graduates from tertiary institutions and universities from across the country are redundant due to the shrinking job market, joining others already unemployed or retrenched following the introduction of an infamous law in July 2015 that allowed the employer to terminate a permanent employment contract on three months’ notice.
These graduates end up vending or filling to the rafters many betting halls to get the next dollar.
The most common type of gambling in the country is sports betting, which mainly centres around predicting game outcomes and placing wagers on the results predicted.
It also involves putting money on the outcome of a race, while expecting to get the desired result. But placing bets is always risky.
While sports betting has been a pastime for the senior citizens who do it for fun, many millenials now do it for a living.
Driving this national addiction is the country’s economic malaise, which has seen the economy fall, while fuel and food prices soar beyond the reach of many, eroding stagnant salaries of the working class.
Zimbabwe’s official inflation rate was pegged at 175% as at June this year, according to the statistics body, the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency, although Finance minister Mthuli Ncube has suspended publishing of the inflation figures.
While Moyo has been unlucky in gambling, Gareth Chose says he actually survives on gambling, not at the slot machines or poker machines, but from the lottery and soccer betting shops dotted around the country.
“There may be a few dark days as I cannot be lucky every day, but overall, I think I am surviving from sports betting,” he said.
“It’s better than being idle at home without a cent in my pocket.”
Like most people rushing to work, Chose wakes up early to beat the morning rush hour and is among the first to be at a soccer betting shop in town.
“You have to be in the know to better your chances of winning,” he said.“You cannot predict something you don’t know unless you are a foreteller.“You may fail on the exact results, but you may know this team is going to win against the other team.”Even employed people also turn to betting as salaries have been eroded by inflation.
A civil servant who did not want to be identified said he turned to betting to augment his meagre salary, which is less than US$70.
“I do it to get the extra dollar, especially during lunch hour when I while time away because I can no longer afford to buy lunch, or after work before I go home.
“Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. My salary is no longer enough to cater for my family needs so I am just trying to augment it.”
According to online betting site, bettingplanet.com, there has been a proliferation of legal gambling facilities in Zimbabwe.
These range from betting shops to horse tracks, as well as casinos.
The site observed that sports betting had become a source of income for many Zimbabweans “due to a decade of financial hardships, many engage in the activity to support their families”.
betting planet adds that the boom in sports betting in Zimbabwe is not only at land-based betting shops, but has also gone online.
“Zimbabwe is beginning to blossom into a growth market for online betting operators,” it noted.
While Moyo lost his businesses to gambling, a Chinhoyi punter committed suicide after losing $600 on July 27.
Clemence Hamufari Masenhu (39), who was not formally employed, used money that he had been entrusted with to gamble, but did not win.
Police attended the scene where he was found dead in a football pitch and recovered an empty bottle of Diospoproxie tablets that he taken.
The government takes casinos as forms of entertainment, especially at tourist resorts and large hotel brands.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Responsible Gambling Association is dedicating the first week of October to carry out awareness campaigns and advocacy programmes to enlighten punters on the need for responsible gambling.
“We need to educate punters on the need for responsible gambling.
“The primary purpose of gambling is fun. It’s a sport, but the problem comes when people do it as a way of raising income, hence they use money not intended for that purpose,” said the association’s executive director Marshall Tseke.
“This can be partly attributed to the economic environment where people take betting as a way of living.
“Eventually, this results in problems like family breakdowns, domestic violence and alcoholism, among others.
“Again, productive time is wasted when people are in betting houses.
“My advice to punters is that you must not chase your losses. Know when to stop.”
In 2015, government suspended issuing of sports betting licences to limit the gambling surge.
lNot his real name