Durban -

Some of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest shopping centres want to have mini casinos on their premises.

KZN Finance MEC Belinda Scott and the KZN Gaming and Betting Board have received applications from 12 malls to install electronic bingo terminals on their premises. They include the Galleria Shopping Mall, Liberty Midlands Mall and Southcoast Mall.

The malls want Scott and the board to amend their trading conditions and allow them to register terminals around the province.

A notice to this effect was gazetted on July 22. The public and interested parties had until Thursday last week to file objections to the application.

The Sunday Tribune understands that the board will convene public hearings where objections can be made orally regarding the applications.

Once this process is finalised, the board will decide whether to approve or decline the application.

KZN Treasury spokeswoman Ntokozo Maphisa confirmed that the board had received applications from licence holders.

“The board is now complying with its statutory obligation to publish such applications received for public comment and/or objections,” Maphisa said.

“The board is duty-bound to consider such objections received prior to making its final decision,” she said.

However, several outraged civil society organisations are mobilising against the proposal.

They fear that easy access to terminals will add to the ever-growing problem of gambling addiction. They have come together as The People’s Forum Against Electronic Bingo.

The forum is made up of 21 civic, religious, welfare, community, educational and political bodies, and represents more than 3 million people. The province has a population of about 10 million people.

On Thursday, the forum submitted objections to the proposal.

It also plans on making representations to Scott and the board.

Stephen Franke of Franke & Associates Attorneys, who filed the notice of objection on behalf of the forum, said: “There are five licensed casinos in the KZN province. The largest two are located in the eThekwini Municipality.

“Sibaya Casino currently has 1 221 slot machines, and Suncoast Casino has 1 450 slot machines. In addition, there are 4 500 machines authorised for the KZN province… These numbers are the highest of all the provinces.”

He added: “If these 12 licences are approved to operate electronic bingo at an initial 150 terminals per site, there will be a further 3 000 slot machines.

“This will cause an over-saturation of slot machines in KZN that will cause social issues and gambling addiction,” said Franke.

“The particular sites as referred to in the government notice are largely in shopping malls and close to business enterprises that employ a large number of employees. Furthermore, the halls are also near schools and churches.

“The… easy accessibility of the bingo halls will increase the propensity for such employees to spend their weekly or monthly pay at the bingo hall before buying their necessary daily or monthly living requirements,” he said.

The forum has a Facebook page called “Stop EBT”, and is urging people to like it.

It has appointed Sham Maharaj as its chairman.

Maharaj, who is also the chairman of Phoenix Child and Family Welfare, said: “We are saturated with machines, Lotto, horse racing and online gambling. Putting another 3 000 slot machines in shopping centres is totally unacceptable. It’s like throwing salt into the sea,” said Maharaj.

The Nazareth Baptist Church is among the organisations opposing the plan.

Spokesman Enoch Mthembu said: “Our people are unemployed. They are supposed to feed and support their families with their money. They should not be gambling it away.

The SA National Civic Association’s regional secretary, Khaya Sibiya, said: “We (parents) will send children to the malls, and they will be drawn to the bright lights and go and gamble. As it is, casinos are bad for the community.”

Karthy Moonsamy from the SA Tamil Federation said: “If we allow this (gambling in malls) we are encouraging our children to gamble.”

The Durban Association for the Aged is also getting involved. Krish Govender, the organisation’s treasurer, said: “The organisation does not support any gambling games or machines in community or residential areas.” He said the organisation’s responsibility was to add value to the lives of senior citizens.

“This is at odds with the potentially adverse effects gambling machines located within communities and residential areas may have on our senior citizens, especially considering the financial hardship that the majority of our senior citizens face on a daily basis.”

The executive director of the National Responsible Gambling Programme, Mana Magomolo, said: “When you have access to a gambling facility, more people will be drawn to gambling. But most people understand gambling is a form of entertainment.

“There is that small percentage of people that don’t understand that it is a form of entertainment, and they are the ones who get into trouble.”

- Sunday Tribune

[email protected]