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Chips are down as SA splurges R13.5bn on Lady Luck

Casinos rake in 15% more despite rate hikes, writes Lauren Cohen

South Africans spent R13.5-billion on gambling in casinos in the last financial year, despite steep hikes in interest rates and increasing food and petrol prices. Gambling revenue was up 15% from R11.5-billion in the 2005-06 period at SA’s 33 casinos, according to the 2007 Survey of Casino Entertainment in South Africa. The report, compiled by the Casino Association of South Africa (Casa), which represents and promotes the interests of the country’s legal casino gaming industry, contains statistics for the 2006/07 financial year and reveals that: Gross gambling revenue more than doubled in five years; 41% of the spend was in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape with 18%;

More than 20 million people visited casinos in Gauteng, while 14.2 million went to KwaZulu-Natal casinos and 8.9 million to those in the Western Cape; More than 86% of revenue was generated in casinos and 10.8% on other forms of betting, and Five new casinos are planned for SA — one in Gauteng, two in the Northern Cape and two in the Eastern Cape. T-Sec economist Mike Schussler said he suspected many people who gambled could not afford it.

“It is one of the strongest growing industries in the country and I suspect people will continue spending money on gambling even though they probably should not.” While the figures at casinos are growing, the number of people seeking treatment for gambling addiction has remained constant, say addiction centres. The director of the Western Cape’s Kenilworth Addiction Treatment Centre, Dr Rodger Meyer, said the demand for problem gambling counselling, as reflected in the National Responsible Gambling Programme’s (NRGP) counselling line statistics, had not increased significantly in three years, despite the gross gambling revenue rising by about R1-billion a year. “This suggests the pool of problem gamblers remains relatively constant and is not dramatically affected by expansion of the industry. Research by the Bureau of Market Research, on behalf of the National Gambling Board, and our own research team at the universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town, suggest problem gambling levels dropped between 2003/4 and 2005/6,” he said. Meyer said what had changed was the degree of damage caused by problem gamblers before they sought treatment. “Some problem gamblers are now more reckless in their quest for increasing levels of excitement derived from the games,” he said.

N RGP executive director Professor Peter Collins said the rise in gambling revenue usually tracked leisure and retail spending patterns. “Games with low stakes which occur infrequently, like the Lotto, are less risky in principle than high-prize slot machines, which are the riskiest. “But in South Africa we have a much higher rate of problem gambling among people who only play Lotto. The reason is people are superstitious; they buy more tickets than they can afford and think they will make their dreams come true.” Collins said 80% of people who completed the NRGP outpatient treatment programme claimed they had stopped gambling six months later.

“But only a very small proportion of poor people seek help, perhaps intimidated by middle- class professionals who offer the counselling.” Derek Auret, chief executive of Casa, said that after more than a decade of legal casino gambling the industry still enjoyed considerable growth potential. “This is demonstrated by the rate at which new casinos have come into operation, the continuing expansion, the refurbishment of existing facilities and their sustained profitability,” said Auret. Auret said in the 11 years since South Africa’s first National Gambling Act came into operation, there could be no doubt that casino gambling had developed an “enviable reputation as a leisure activity”.

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