Having endured over a decade of hardships as a result of an unrelenting economic crisis, Zimbabweans have developed a reputation of not just being resilient, but also innovative in how to get by. Sports betting has become one of the increasingly popular ways of earning a living for many people in the country.
About half a dozen men huddle together as they listen attentively to a horse racing commentary being broadcast on one of the big screen television sets in a popular betting place at Gweru’s Mkoba 6 Shopping Centre, Midlands province.
Among them is a man who chooses to identify himself only as Moyo and is one of the well-known regulars at this place.
Moyo, in his early forties, readily volunteers to talk about his experience as a horse racing punter. He says he detests betting as he believes it is immoral and reveals that he grew up with a father who used to squander most of his wages on gambling, which made him fail to take care of his family.
But in an ironic twist of fate, Moyo admits he himself became drawn to betting on horses, which has been his regular source of income since the time he got out of formal employment in 1998.
“When I was an adult and was already working, I’d see some people making money from gambling, so I also decided to try my luck. When I started betting I had a dream in which I was shown a race and its results. The following day I went and placed my bets and the results came out exactly the same way as I had been shown in the dream. I started believing that I could make extra money from betting and augment my wages.”
Although it is often associated with gambling, sports betting is different in that it is regularized or controlled by law while various forms of gambling are sometimes illegal. In Zimbabwe, the Gaming and Lotteries Act regulates the sports betting industry as well as other betting games like lotteries and casinos.
Horse racing has for a long time been the only sport in the country on which punters could place bets, but in the past few years, several betting companies have been given licences to operate bets on other sports like soccer, basketball, cricket, tennis as well as dog racing.
SURGE IN SPORT BETTING
Although facts and figures are not readily available, there has been a surge in sports betting in the country and in May, government announced it had stopped granting betting licences to curb the upsurge of sports betting in the country.
Sports betting and other gambling games like lotteries and casinos are often euphemistically referred to as “games of chance”.
In Zimbabwe, however, they are no longer just games, but a means of survival for many owing to high unemployment.
Moyo says it is not surprising that many young people are now among punters in sports betting.
“As I was growing up, we used to know that betting on horses was for the elderly people or pensioners who had already made it in life and would do the betting as a leisurely pastime. But with the current situation in country where there is no employment and industries are closed, young people have no jobs and gambling is the only option they are left with to look for money.”
The act of betting involves putting a certain amount of money or a wager on the result of a sports game or race and there are many types of bets that one can put their money on.
Moyo says he likes placing bets on horses because he calls himself a veteran punter and understands even the most subtle details of the game. He, however, admits that winning, especially big amounts that matter, is never easy.
Twenty four year-old Never Shoko has been involved in betting on soccer matches for the past two years. The unemployed youth says he gets money for betting from doing odd jobs and also donations from relatives and friends.
Although like most Zimbabweans, he is a keen follower of the English Premier League, Shoko says he prefers to bet on Italian, German and Spanish leagues, which he says are more predictable. He places bets every weekend and says he is usually assured of winning once a month, and though paltry, the winnings enable him to buy himself food and clothes.
$20 WIN VERY GOOD
“In a month I use $4 to bet because I bet every weekend spending a dollar on each weekly bet. So, if I win say $20, I’d have made a good win. I buy food for myself and clothes as well because I’m not working at the moment and there is no one in my family who is able to provide for me.”
Like Moyo, Shoko believes that gambling is a vice which people should avoid but he says in the absence of a more conventional way of earning a living he has no choice but to be involved in sports betting.
“It’s true that gambling is not good but there is nothing that we can do. In the situation we are in, one can do even that which is bad in order to get money.”
While the sports betting industry may provide a means of earning a living for some, most of those involved in it say they prefer a more straightforward way and hope that the New Year will bring a new lease of life for the country’s economy.