Gambling - harmless fun or a perilous urge?

03 Dec 2018

By Mpho Kuhlmann

Often referred to as a ‘silent killer’, gambling unlike excessive drinking or drug abuse rarely shows on a person’s body. It starts out as a recreational activity and progresses to a compulsive behavior, which becomes the main focus of a gambler's life. Gambling may be just a game – but for some it’s much more. It’s an addiction

For most Batswana when you mention the word gambling they immediately think of slot machines and roulette tables, a huge underground gambling industry worth millions is however flourishing in Botswana pubs and shebbes involving cards, dice, poker snooker (pool) coin spinning and caps.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says “Family relationships suffer greatly when the breadwinner is a gambling addict; there is loss of trust, worry, despair and fear. Depression and a deterioration of physical and emotional health are general signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction. Men and women gamble for different reasons, too. While both may use gambling as a stress release, women’s extensive use of slot machines becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism to escape stress, loneliness and boredom. Research has shown that gambling addiction seems to increase with availability and accessibility. People who are on low incomes or unemployed are vulnerable to gambling addiction. People who are thrill-seekers and who act impulsively are also at risk. Young men between 16 and 30 playing pool(snooker) as well as poker are more at risk of  becoming gambling addicts. Older women tend to go for slot machines.

Problem gambling habits can lead to financial difficulties, substance abuse, depression, and even anxiety. There is no single cause of gambling addiction – one is either predisposed to it or not. Compulsive gambling usually begins in early adolescence in males and at a later age for females. Some people are fascinated from the time of their initial exposure, but for others the process is more gradual, until they suddenly have a big win, or there is some other stressor bringing on a period of compulsive gambling. Usually, people who go on to become gambling addicts, have a big win early on in their gambling experiences. Social gambling and professional gambling are often confused with gambling addiction.

Boikanyo Thebe is a consultant at an advertising agency in Gaborone says gambling doesn’t only affect men but women too. “I started visiting the casino at Grand Palm after I started my new job and I had financial problems. At first, it was fun, glamorous and exciting –- especially after I won P10, 000 in one of my first plays on a slot machine. The fun started wearing off when I was now lying to my family about what I was doing and digging myself into a cycle of debt. My secret habit was becoming a lot to handle. I found myself trapped in a cycle of emotional highs at the thrilling prospect of the win, then depression when that prospect remained unfulfilled.” She says female gamblers experience intense anxiety, but while this may take the form of psychological issues with women, male gamblers usually often present with alcoholism or drug addiction,

Gambling addicts have a tendency to gamble by themselves and to gamble until they have nothing left, as time goes by, gambling addicts tend to bet larger and larger amounts, take greater and greater chances, gamble more frequently and become progressively more and more obsessed with gambling and getting money with which to gamble. The process of winning, then losing, followed by desperation, is a known cycle in the world of the gambling addict. Gambling addicts may start to borrow or steal money, either from family members, employers or both, with which to gamble and will often carry on gambling until they have nothing left at all. They will let bills go unpaid while spending available money on their gambling pursuits. They often try, unsuccessfully, to put a stop to their gambling. Larger and larger amounts will be needed to produce the same sense of excitement – a state of euphoria. A gambler will often lie to others about the extent of the money at stake or the risks taken.

Dimpho Rangaka a high school student at Gaborone Senior Secondary School in Gaborone  indulges in a game of pool (snooker) everyday with his friends after school. “We play pool every day after school at the station/bus rank. We usually bet P5.00 to play each. It is a good feeling when you win; it means you get to walk away with everyone’s money that money buys anything you want, food and even airtime. We play every day; we don’t really see it as gambling it is just something we enjoy doing every day after school.”

The issue of participation of the youth in gambling activities in Botswana is a troubling and possibly growing trend. This is especially so given the fact that today’s youth are the first group to grow up in a society where legalized gambling is both widely available and heavily advertised. There is a close link between class and underage gambling behavior; young people who live in poorer areas tend to play dice and other forms of gambling activities that could be organized informally and offer lower barriers to entry.  Their counterparts in the affluent areas are more likely to have access to and engage in formally organized gaming activities (slot machines and online poker). The most popular form of underage gambling is pool (snooker) which young boys in high school engage in, usually played at bars, car washes, homes and even bus ranks these places operate on a fairly round-the-clock basis with large numbers of unemployed adolescents and high school learners making up the gambling population during the course of the working day.