Jan 20, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Online gambling is terrible news for SA’s youth

Gambling is not a new phenomenon. From the shiny slot machines on casino floors to “craps” on a random street corner, it has been and continues to be an activity that engages many – young and old alike. However, online gambling, largely made accessible via smartphones, has become an even more attractive option for those looking to try their luck.

Social media, particularly Twitter, has become a platform where young people routinely share their personal gaming experiences. These are young people who bet on online sites such as Lottostar, Betway, Hollywoodbets and World Sports Betting.

Many of these young people bet on football matches all the time. They talk about it openly, to the point of sharing screenshots of wins. What was clearly missed, however, are the contrasting narratives. What about everyone else who is playing online but losing?

The machines are running amok

In 2020, author and media personality Khaya Dlanga took to Instagram and opened up about his younger brother’s suicide. He spoke about his struggle with online gambling and how it led to “a spiral of addiction from which he was unable to break himself out”.

Perhaps extraordinarily heartbreaking is Dlanga’s reflection when he writes : “Every day I look at the R5.40 he left next to the suicide note. Four Rand, two 50 cents and two 20 cent coins.”

The nature of any addiction is such that it rarely affects only the addict. Relatives, friends and family are also affected – because we live in community with each other. Because of addiction, there are many stories of pain, loss, regret, and shame. There are also stories about the gambling world and, though rarely, about people who overcome everything and what it takes to get there.

‘Harmless’ beginnings

Melissa Morris is a 27 -year old woman based in Cape Town. She started gambling online in 2015 when KFM, a radio station, was promoting Lottostar.

“What bothered me the most was that I fell into this trap before I was 18 years old ‘ Morris begins. “I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth at KFM for six years. I think they partnered up and it just felt predatory. You can’t swear on the radio, but you can promote gambling?”

Morris says that it was easy for her to use Lottostar because the process of depositing money on the platform was relatively easy. This is often the case with some of these online platforms. Growing up, Morris was exposed to slot machines in pubs her father frequented.

While other kids might have snuck into those pubs for a drink or two, Morris saw it on the other side as a means of potentially making some money. Therefore, what might appear as harmless advertisements about Lottostar on KFM ended up being very different for someone who was already prepared to be susceptible to the vices of gambling.

“First of all, I would say, ‘What are R100?” and eventually started depositing between R500 and R1,000,” she says. “You could do it on the phone and it mimicked the slots I was already used to. I kept putting my money down a black hole and ended up not even having money for food. I would get some money back, but use that as credit to make more money in an endless cycle.”

Addiction thrives in secret. Morris hid her struggles with Lottostar from her family and friends because she was embarrassed. Not even the lack of food was enough to reveal their reality at the time.

“To be honest, there were times when I didn’t eat anyway due to my previous eating disorders.”

While Morris acknowledges that no one forced her to make the decisions she did, she believes more can and should be done to protect those who are vulnerable.

“Not enough is being done to openly show that this is a trap. Nothing is done to protect vulnerable individuals. It should not be advertised on a daytime radio station. If I had a bank card, I could have linked it to this platform in hopes of winning that elusive jackpot.”

All-Consuming Nature

Kamogelo Motsiane is a 25- year-old woman based in Johannesburg. She shares the experience of her close friend, 30-year-old *Linda Myeni, who has been addicted to online gambling at Hollywoodbets for several years.

“Her obsession with gambling arose from a desire to make money fast Money to keep her drug addiction going. She was always on CAT,” begins Motsiane. “She can only bet 10 cents so she wins enough to think she can then raise the bet.”

Myeni initially kept her gambling addiction a secret, says Motsiane. However, once it became public, she felt much more comfortable showing her friend the reality of her addiction. “She was now content to ask me to buy her a voucher or airtime. Now we’ve gotten to the point where when we spend time together, she plays on her phone all day.”

Myeni, who has a degree in Information Technology, is struggling to keep a job . “She doesn’t have a hard time getting a job, but she doesn’t keep it for very long. It’s hard to keep a job when you devote all your time and money to gambling,” says Motsiane. “She has been unemployed for a year and now lives with her mother. She will constantly try to pressure her mother or me for airtime or a coupon to play.”

Motsiane also tells that her friend’s mother also has a history of gambling. However, she has not played actively in the last two years. As in the case of Morris, it is evident that Myeni was exposed to gambling as a child. She saw her mother being consumed by it.

Psychological Implications

Addiction is still a phenomenon that can be argued to suffer from a type of biased perception depending on the addiction . People tend to be much more accepting of substance or alcohol addictions, but not those involving food or sex. They are taboo. While gambling addiction is now recognized for what it rightfully is – addiction – it can still be difficult for people to accept that a person would spend most, if not all, of their income on something that is purely incidental.’ /p >

Keitumetse Disemelo, a clinical psychologist from Pretoria, describes addiction as a condition with many moving parts. “It affects day-to-day functioning and there is a lack of control to avoid certain behaviors,” she says.

“Individuals become addicted to these behaviors and make spontaneous decisions despite negative consequences that they cause themselves have are aware. Denial is also the key to addiction.”

She goes on to break down several factors that she believes appear to be driving the growing tendency of young people to turn to online gambling.

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” It’s not just about the accessibility of these platforms. The current state of the South African economy with the pandemic and the pressures the youth are facing are critical. There is high levels of poverty and unemployment and daily trauma that drives them to seek out these platforms.”

Put simply, for many it is an escape from an already grim reality.

“The commonality of every addiction is the compulsion,” says Disemelo. “First, the addict must want the help. Second, it is important that the family is aware of this mental disorder and understands that it can coexist with other conditions such as major depression or anxiety.

“Family support is just as important as understanding that addiction cannot be overcome overnight. Trying to remove the things that are causing the behavior is also possible. For example removing the internet in relation to online gambling.”

Exploitation of Vulnerable Youth

The house always wins. This is a well-known saying. Gambling in all its forms is based on statistical odds. While there are jackpot winners and inspirational rags to riches stories, the house always wins. The average gambler continues to bet believing that every day could be their lucky day.

A BBC Africa Eye documentary examined the impact of sports betting in Uganda. The documentary, hosted by 25-year-old Collins Muhinda, an unemployed graduate, shows how these big betting companies are targeting vulnerable communities – places where unemployment is rife and young people are desperate for access to some form of income . Having succeeded in terms of market share in countries abroad, Africa is now the last emerging market for these big companies and profit is of course the bottom line.

While there are standard rules when it comes to online gambling are, some of these can easily be bypassed. Unlike physical casinos, which may require identification to ensure players are at least 18 years old, creating a profile on many betting platforms simply requires a tick – there is no way to ensure the user is not underage. Additionally, “free credit” upon sign up and the intentional zero rating of these gambling sites in terms of data usage are tools to further attract young people to these platforms.

Requests for information, both to Betway and to Betway World Sports Betting regarding active SA users on each platform and their Corporate Social Responsibility mandates went unanswered. However, a preliminary analysis of SA traffic to Betway and Hollywoodbets between September and November 2021 shows the sites ranked 16th and 6th, respectively, nationally for mobile and desktop users. World Sports Betting, on the other hand, ranks 292nd.

Issues like this, especially those with clear socio-economic implications, always need to start with a conversation that focuses on the people who are most impacted. Questions of industry regulation and government’s role in protecting its citizens are necessary. Addiction also thrives in secret. If we are to effectively educate our society about the growing stranglehold of online gambling on youth in South Africa, we must unravel the mystery.

* Name changed to protect individuals.

< em>This article was first published on New Frame.