Skint gamblers go for broke
A recession that cost the country about a million jobs has not stopped cash-strapped South Africans going for broke in the casinos.
Statistics released by the National Gambling Board in its 2009-2010 annual report, tabled in Parliament last week, show that gross gambling revenue rose by 2.17%, from
R15.9-billion in 2008-2009 to about R16.6-billion this year.
Coy gamblers at Cape Town's Grand West Casino would not speak to The Times about their gambling habits yesterday, except to say that they were "not surprised" to hear that gambling revenue was at about the R16-billion mark.
Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart said the statistics were not surprising because the gambling industry was a "defensive" industry, resistant to recession.
"People gamble almost regardless of how the economy is doing," he said.
Hart said statistics showing that gambling revenue had grown more slowly than in previous years were "almost indicative of the pressures" of recession.
"If it's . impacted on gambling and drinking, that reflects how hard it really was," said Hart.
Peter Collins, executive director of the National Responsible Gambling Programme, said the increase was, in real terms, "actually a small decline".
Collins said that the programme, which runs the problem-gambling hotline, showed that there had not been a significant increase in the number of calls on the hotline.
"It doesn't look as if problem gambling is related to general economic circumstances or availability [of casinos]," he said. "What we are more alarmed about is the number of unemployed people gambling.
"If you want to reduce problem gambling, reduce unemployment."
Addiction Action Campaign chief executive Warren Whitfield said that the most important statistics on the gambling industry were not published.
"The [number] of problem gamblers - how much money they are spending.
"Why are studies not being compiled on that?" he said.
Whitfield said similar studies in Australia had found that some casinos made up to half of their profits from problem gamblers.
The national gambling statistics indicated that 84.3% of the
R16-billion gambling revenue in South Africa went to casinos.
But, said Whitfield, the casinos spent only "0.1% of their income on prevention and rehabilitation".
Sidwell Medupe, spokesman for the department of trade and industry, said the minister had established a "gambling review commission to assess gambling in general".
"Once the report is tabled in Parliament, that will give us an idea of gambling as a whole," he said.