'The Gambling Board must come to its senses'

The country's R9-billion a year gambling industry is facing a backlash.

The Western Cape government, with the support of big business, religious institutions and community organisations, is expected to oppose the roll-out of thousands of new slot machines throughout the province.

The strict regulation of the industry a few years ago was announced amid much glitz and glamour, but the tide seems to be turning as the impact on families emerges.

Social services and poverty relief MEC Marius Fransman said on Thursday that it was time for the Western Cape Gambling Board to "come to its senses", following the release of new research on the impact of gambling, which found that:

  • R6,8-billion was spent on gambling in 2001.

  • 72 percent of South Africans gamble.

  • 27 percent of people who play the Lotto are unemployed.

  • 22 percent of casino gamblers are unemployed.

  • 71,3 percent of gamblers would have spent the money they lost on household necessities.

Fransman said the study indicated that "poor people actively participate in gambling" and that seven out of 10 people believe gambling is acceptable and spend an average of R84 a month on their activities.

For hundreds of thousands of poor families, supported to the tune of R280-million a month by his department through social grants, this R84 a month was far too high, Fransman said.

On the proposed roll-out of slot machines, Fransman said: "The Western Cape Gambling Board should come to its senses. People who are gambling are from the poorest areas and (if the roll-out takes place) they will be taking slot machines right into poor African and coloured areas.

"There is a view that this will create empowerment for people, but I say rather not that type of empowerment, which sacrifices our people's income."

He said the next few days would be interesting as the provincial cabinet grappled with the question of the slot machine roll-out.

"We (the provincial government) should not give approval. Already the Muslim Judicial Council and the Western Cape Council of Churches, as well as Chris Nissen, the president of the Cape Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have stated, some in writing and some verbally, that they are supporting a stance that says these slot machines should not be rolled out. The gambling board should be told not to proceed."

Nationally, provinces are expected to licence more than 20 000 new slot machines in entertainment venues such as pubs and clubs.

According to the research, commissioned by the National Gambling Board, almost 75 percent of South Africans approve of a regulated industry, while three out of every four participated in one or other form of gambling during the year preceding the study.

The national lottery accounts for by far the largest number of regular gamblers, with more than 70 percent of South Africans buying lottery tickets.

In contrast, just less than 20 percent visited a casino in this period.

Acting chief executive officer of the National Gambling Board Tibbs Majake said gambling contributed more than R9-billion to the gross domestic product in 2000.

New investment had exceeded R10-billion since 1996 and the industry had created nearly 51 000 direct and indirect jobs, many for first-time workers.

National Gambling Board chairperson Chris Fismer said that over the past three years the National Responsible Gambling Programme had provided free, professional medical treatment to almost two thousand people addicted to gambling and its toll-free helpline had telephonically assisted a further 2 500 callers.

In total, the helpline had received about 40 000 calls since June 2000.

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