GAMBLING is increasingly becoming one of the leading business sectors as Bulawayo’s economic woes worsen and people resort to unconventional means as sources of livelihoods.
Desperate people see gambling as the only way out of increasing poverty fuelled by high unemployment as a result of company closures.
However, for others gambling seems to be a new form of social vice away from the traditional scourge of burglary, theft, alcoholism and prostitution.
There appears to have been a surge in the number of gambling shops as profitability has increased despite critics pointing out the highly addictive nature of gambling.
Gambling has many forms ranging from poker games, slot machines, dice-based games, card games, coin tossing, casino, bingo and lotteries, among others. It is sports betting which seems to have taken Bulawayo by storm.
Retail outlets have also joined the gambling industry, albeit in a subtle way by introducing promotions offering lots of prizes to be won.
People enter such promotions with the hope of winning cars, groceries and furniture, gadgets or cash prizes.
While such promotions are limited in occurrence and prizes, it is sports betting that seems to have spread and overtaken any form of gambling in popularity in Bulawayo.
Outlets that offer sports batting, particularly European soccer and South African horse racing, are always jam-packed on weekends and sometimes during weekdays as residents without regular income place their bets with the hope of making a quick buck.
The rising phenomenon, especially among the city’s youths, is as a result of the difficulty in finding work to enable them to support themselves and their families in an increasingly shrinking economy compounded by cash shortages.
A visit to gambling outlets in Bulawayo by a Southern Eye crew on Friday showed that people as young as 18 years and as old as 60 eke out a living in this industry.
Outlets such as Soccer Sports and Matabeleland Turf Club were full with more than 100 people, both men and women jostling to place their bats.
One lucky bet could end a punter’s financial woes, but most people in these outlets exhibit desperation and anxiety since losses would mean continuing to face mounting debts and the risk of losing property for defaulting on debt payments.
Punters said these gambling outlets had virtually become their “workplaces” as they woke up early in the morning along with those with office jobs and spent the whole day trying their luck on making a quick buck to help ease their financial burdens.
A 67-year-old man, who only identified himself as Mlotshwa, said he had been gambling for the past 40 years, indicating that he would continue because the situation was tough and he could not afford to just sit at home as his children would die of hunger.
“I am married and have seven children to look after, so I use the money I get through gambling to look after my family,” Mlotshwa, an avid horseracing punter said.
He said gambling was not easy and he sometimes spent a lot of money in vain.
“The largets amount I have won since I started gambling is $270,” Mlotshwa said.
Another regular gambler and father of three Albert Mapfumo, said gambling was another way of making a living and there was nothing wrong with it.
“I gamble a lot and to me it is business and I am working when I am here. I spend $45 a day depending on what is there on that particular day. I manage to feed my family through gambling. I have won about $3 000 in the past six months,” Mapfumo said.
Mapfumo is both a horseracing and soccer gambler.
“We have got people with degrees here but they come and gamble with us because children don’t eat qualifications but food,” He said.
Other gamblers said the government should revive industries to create employment. They said they would never stop gambling because it was giving them money to feed their families and it was now no longer a secret to their families that they were gamblers.
Economic hardships have bedevilled companies, especially supermarkets and retailers, as most of them have introduced promotions as a way of luring customers.
Economic commentators canvassed by Southern Eye said people were desperate due to lack of employment opportunities, the economic crisis and issues of liquidity crunch.
They said gambling was fast becoming a fertile ground for organised and illegal batting and gambling syndicates and unless the government comes up with clear-cut strategies on employment creation or business opportunities, the future of youths would remain bleak with the dream of ever securing employment fading with each day.
Local economic commentator Collen Mugodzva said: “Cash is hard to come by and the unemployment rate in the country is over 95% and people are finding it hard to fend for the families.”
He said the number of people that had turned to gambling had increased compared to previous years largely due to the economic meltdown.
Prominent economic commentator Eric Bloch said people were finding it hard to survive due to cash shortages and lack of employment in the country, particularly in Bulawayo.
“People have resorted to gambling due to desperation as they are trying to survive the economic hardships,” Bloch said.
Bloch said to create employment, there was need to invest in productive sectors. He said current investment was in non-productive sectors.
Social commentator and traditionalist Pathisa Nyathi said gambling had both negatives and positives.
He said it was addictive and this was only exhibited when gamblers become excessively preoccupied with gambling to the exclusion of everything and everyone, including their own families.
“Playing cards as a way of gambling is anti-social as some people tend to manipulate results leading to violence. However, playing casino, horseracing and sports betting sometimes has got positive results because the profits benefit people,” he said.
“It can bring about development because it creates employment for other people. However, we cannot rule out the fact that some games do get addictive because some people become irresponsible and begin to squander money. They will be thinking that they would always win.”
Between 2000 and 2009, millions of Zimbabweans, including skilled workers, fled the country’s economic free fall to settle in South Africa, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
The period was marked by hyperinflation, high unemployment, poor salaries and critical shortages of basic commodities.
A recent survey by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions found that 75 companies had shut down since January this year, putting around 9 000 breadwinners out of work.
Bulawayo was hit by deindustrialisation after recording close to 100 company closures.
More companies continue to downsize and some are relocating to other cities, leaving thousands of locals unemployed.
Industries in Bulawayo need an estimated $400 million to recover, but have been battling to attract the required capital largely due to policy inconsistencies, chiefly the indigenisation law which calls for foreign companies to yield 51% of their shareholding to locals.
Economic analysts have said Zimbabwe economy is close to deflation due to the stagnancy and decline in prices as consumer spending continues to weaken.
Deflation is a decrease in the general price level of goods and services.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has said he expects economic growth of 6,4% in 2014, up from 3,4% last year. But experts dismissed his claims saying the growth would be slower as the liquidity crisis worsens.