The writer criticises the idea of stationing a Sassa grants pay outlet next to a Bingo hall.
The writer criticises the idea of stationing a Sassa grants pay outlet next to a Bingo hall.
The writer criticises the idea of stationing a Sassa grants pay outlet next to a Bingo hall.
The writer criticises the idea of stationing a Sassa grants pay outlet next to a Bingo hall.
Opinion - When I read it in the news I was infuriated! 

There is nothing that upsets me more than gambling. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and the pure absurdity of it all.

A bingo hall next to an EasyPay outlet where people collect their Sassa grants. In my opinion, it is mass suicide of a community already struggling to survive.

To the government and the regulators who give out licences to the operators, it is nothing more than a positive opportunity to enhance or increase the socio-economic growth and development of our country.

How brilliant! A statement in an article on the Independent Media website that shook me read: “Compulsive gamblers can use debit cards day and night to circumvent ATM withdrawal limits”; and get deep into debt to feed their habit. And now we are opening a gambling hall right next to a Sassa pay outlet. Bravo, SA!

Well I suppose they saw the results from the recent research by Business Tech.co.za revealing that the total gambling- generated revenue in SA rose 11.2% in 2015 to R26 billion.

This is expected to grow to R34.8bn in 2020 - a 6% compound annual increase. Bingo contributes R936 million to that figure and is expected to rise to R1.6bn in 2020.

Guess who benefits from the bulk of it? It’s a no-brainer - the taxman. Who loses from all of it? The very communities in which they place it.

I understand as humans we all love a game of chance. We love to take on Lady Luck for the adrenalin rush it gives us in those few seconds of a fantastical possibility coupled with the thrill of the unknown and the chance to beat the odds.

I mean, we are human, so if we are lured with the idea of having some fun with a chance of walking out with thousands in our pocket, it has become a no-brainer. But is it?

Do we as a country and as a community understand the reality of gambling, especially addiction, and the devastating effects it has on people?

Last year, South African Peter Williams gave us a shocking look at the human cost of gambling. He burnt himself to death at Montecasino after losing R180000 at the casino.

He was 47 and an IT professional, yet succumbed to this addiction. According to reports on IOL, Williams also set fire to the idea that gambling is an escape from pain and he is not the only one to take such drastic measures.

Gambling-related suicides are rife in South Africa. According to the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation, the industry-funded body for addiction treatment and prevention, about 22% of problem gamblers have attempted suicide and 52% are thinking of suicide by the time they seek help.

I read about another couple who had just built their dream home and the recreational ambit of gambling became compulsive after being in a “winning phase” for a short period, and then they hit what’s called the “losing phase”. When that happened they started to obsessively chase the ultimate prize in an attempt to recoup losses.

They even resorted to pawning everything they had to have money to win that big amount, which, might I add, is not promised. Instead they lost everything. Both tried to kill themselves.

And here’s the answer to my question and the irony. The government and all its regulators are absolutely aware of the devastation it causes, which is even more mind boggling.

I had to laugh when I read a statement from a representative at the Department of Trade and Industry, who said: “It’s not uncommon for gambling addicts to lose sight of the needs of their families when they are consumed by the desire to win at all costs.”

Dr Heidi Sinclair of the SA Responsible Gambling Foundation said: “The National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP) has reported that mothers have even left their newborn babies in the care of preteen children when they go out to get their gambling fix, and men have been known to turn violent when they discover their partners have been hiding money from them in an effort to keep them out of the casino.”

She went on to talk about the women who are now having sex for money to carry on the habit.

Sinclair also spoke about the financial implications it has on families and the huge amount of debt people put themselves in to gamble, and how many families have been torn apart because of it.

Geraldine Macpherson, a legal marketing specialist at Liberty, said: “Gamblers have been known to resort to criminal activity in their desperation to feed their addiction.

“Sometimes they will be physically injured, sell all their possessions and even borrow money from loan sharks.”

I remember writing an article in 2006, when I interviewed women who were forced to prostitute themselves to pay off loan sharks. I interviewed children who were forced to beg by loan sharks to repay their parents’ debt. I even interviewed young women who were raped by loan sharks as punishment for money owing to the loan sharks by their parents.

David Briskham, clinical and development director of Twin Rivers Addiction Recovery and Personal Development Centre, says: “At Twin Rivers, I worked with a gambler who lost R30 million and also owed money to the Chinese mafia.

“Gambling in South Africa, involving legal and illegal gambling halls, is at epic proportions, and next to alcohol it is the biggest addiction in this country.”

But wait, there is apparently light at the end of this tunnel. According to Sibongile Simelane-Quntana, executive director of the SA Responsible Gambling Foundation, over the past 17 years, 18100 people had been helped by the NRGP.

The programme is a public-private sector initiative founded in 2000. It is funded by the gambling operators and now by some gambling boards and government too. They are offering responsible gambling programmes. They are even spending millions on opening various facilities around the country, which offer treatment and counselling sessions.

They are currently planning a multimillion-rand roll-out programme to educate the public because the problem affects teenagers and pensioners the most.

Calls to the helpline are free, and if necessary the caller will be enrolled in an outpatient programme with one of the NRGP’s medical professionals.

This is paid for by the programme and not the patient. How generous, especially after the damage has been done. Bless.

But take note, because she says: “The system is not foolproof and the chances of relapse are very high. The process is very lengthy.”

Absolute common sense in a very nonsensical world. You choose life, I guess

PS: Compulsive gambling, medically called ludomania, is as much of a disease as alcoholism and other forms of addiction.

* Tash Hunsewraj Reddy is the founder of Widowed South Africa and Bavuke.com, a foundation to teach women self-defence.

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