Yoliswa Dube Features Reporter
THE Gambler, that song immortalised by legendary country musician, Kenny Rodgers, was playing in the background as a man with faded jeans, white takkies and matching T-shirt walked into the city casino.
He walks with the swagger of a professional gambler. It is apparent the man is familiar with the surroundings and “the game”. He goes straight to the cash booth to buy five $1 chips.
Everyone calls out his name in greeting, “Hie George Gumbo,” or simply “What’s up Jojo.”
The five blue chips took the only money he had in his pocket but he believed lady luck would be on his side.
Jojo places his bet on a range of numbers at a game of roulette.
The wheel spins and the ball falls on one of his betting numbers. Within a minute Jojo had gained 17 more chips.
There is relief and pride written all over his face following the victory. He placed more bets, this time winning even more money.
So he keeps betting and gets into three figure digit wins. The man places more and more money on the line and keeps winning. It is like magic.
Being a veteran of many battles, Jojo knows when to quit. He knows his streak of luck may soon run out and could end up losing all the money he had won.
As he turns his back on the casino tables going out, Kenny Rodgers’ The Gambler continues playing:
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, Know when to run
You never count your money When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ When the dealin’s done.”
Gambling has become more than just a pastime as scores of chancers have turned to it in an effort of making the extra buck and take care of their families.
“I won $150 the first time I played roulette. I went back to the casino a couple more times until I realised I could actually make real money out of the game. I would just visit the casino whenever I needed some extra cash and soon realised if I kept winning, I could make some real money,” said Melusi Tshuma of Bulawayo.
Although he has lost money on certain occasions, Tshuma believes there is more money to be won than lost.
“It just depends on how lucky you’re, but after a couple of times, you get the hang of it and are likely to win more,” said Tshuma.
Roulette is a casino game named after the French word meaning little wheel. In the game, players may choose to place bets on either a single number or a range of numbers, the colours red or black, or whether the number is odd or even.
To determine the winning number and colour, a croupier spins a wheel in one direction, and then spins a ball in the opposite direction around a tilted circular track running around the circumference of the wheel.
The ball eventually loses momentum and falls onto the wheel and into one of 38 coloured and numbered pockets on the wheel.
Roulette is just one of many forms of gambling inflicting chancers.
Aside from roulette, chancers also bet on soccer games, participate in the lottery or bet on a game of cards played on the streets.
A tour around the city shows just how popular gambling has become. Soccer betting halls are always crowded during big soccer matches.
“I’m familiar with the English Premier League and I’m constantly watching the soccer teams play. I place my bets based on the teams’ form and performances,” said Tafadzwa Dube, a regular punter.
He said he loses nothing in gambling as he already enjoys watching soccer and benefits from his hobby.
“The secret is in making sure you don’t place too much money on the line. If I can sacrifice a $1 and leave the place $20 richer, it’s a fair deal. I don’t really see any problem with betting,” said Dube.
In soccer betting, every minute and every touch is important.
One can place a bet on a 10-minute or first-half score line of a match.
In fact, there are many options one can make in placing a bet.
One can predict an outright win for a particular team or teams and place that on one ticket. Home teams often pay less.
A person can predict a home win or draw as a double chance, which of course offers lower odds.
Thirdly, one can also simply predict that a certain team will score or that a minimum number of goals will be scored in a match.
For example, one can bet that a match involving Barcelona and Levante will produce a minimum of three goals.
The brave ones can actually predict the actual score line and that option pays more.
The courageous ones money stand better chances of winning than those who bet small and take less risks.
However, playing tables seems more lucrative as chancers seem to bet more money.
“I can leave the casino with at least $900. Imagine the difference $900 makes during a tough month when you’ve run out of money. If I start off with $20 and keep multiplying the cash, then good for me but if I lose, tough luck,” said a local medical practitioner who declined to be named.
Contrary to popular belief, gambling is not necessarily done exclusively by dubious characters that many associate with crime.
It is the ordinary man and woman on the street trying to make ends meet.
Women too flock casinos where they play fruit machines while others are there as “technical advisors”.
The “technical advisors” are there to supposedly “guide” the chancers to bet on particular numbers and aid them to win big.
When the punters do win as per their advice, the “technical advisors” take all the credit and when the punters discard the advice – they blame the chancer for the loss.
They live off wins from those they would have advised.
Others ask for chips worth as little as $5 only to win more than the sponsor and disappear into thin air.
Sex workers are also lurking within close proximity waiting to lure those that would have won big and hoping to cash in on them.
“Playing on the fruit machines is not just for the money for me. It’s quite therapeutic actually. I come here every day and can play for hours without winning but still enjoy it,” said Rita Moyo, who was playing a game on a fruit machine.
The slot machines cost a dollar with the lowest bet costing ten cents.
Again, the more money you bet the larger your chances of winning.
“I come here to relax and don’t really expect to win anything. I can just sit here and talk to nobody the entire time,” said Moyo.
Punters shuffle back and forth the counters to purchase more chips when they have lost while others simply visit the counter to cash out.
Some of these winners are content with whatever money they have made and are not willing to take more risks.
However, the single payout point is characterised by short queues, if not deserted.
Yet despite money lost clearly outweighing money won, punters, some of whom are engaged in the pastime full-time, remain optimistic, adamant and determined to beat the game at some point.
Gambling is addictive and has cost some money running into thousands.
“It’s a bad thing to be hooked onto. Once you start and really get into it, you risk being addicted. You start making ridiculous sacrifices with the hope of multiplying the money,” said a manager at one of the city’s casinos.
He said in as much as casinos and other forms of chance games like lotto are businesses which seek to make money, gambling is a bad habit.
“The more you win the more you keep telling yourself you can win more. I’ve seen people winning big money and I’ve also seen them losing even bigger amounts. People have gone into chronic depression after losing substantial amounts of money on the tables,” he said.
The problem of becoming addicted started long back, in the days when horse-betting was the in thing.
Gambling in Zimbabwe is legal and is regulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs under The Lotteries and Gaming Board which operates in terms of the Lotteries and Gaming Act Chapter 10: 26.
It is, however, inadvisable to engage in street gambling where winners may find it difficult to leave.
Casinos, lottery or lotto, horse and soccer betting are a “cleaner” type of gambling compared to playing cards in streets or houses.
In street gambling, some chancers are known to play while hiding a pocket knife under the foot. The knife is used in cases where the winner might think of leaving with the “jackpot”.
“Gambling in the streets, houses or beer drinking places is dangerous and risky. You can either lose your jackpot or life depending on the circumstances.
The good thing, however, is that there is little money to be won in cards. This has driven most punters to official places of gambling like casinos,” said a veteran punter who is into horse-betting, Victor Banda, 69, of Sizinda.