A recession that cost the country about a million jobs has not stopped cash-strapped South Africans from going for broke in the casinos. Statistics released by the National Gambling Board in its 2009/10 annual report, tabled in Parliament last week, show that gross gambling revenue rose by 2.17%, from R15.9-billion in 2008/09 to about R16.6-billion this year. Investment Solutions economist Chris Hart said the statistics were not surprising because the gambling industry was a "defensive" industry resistant to recession. "People gamble almost regardless of how the economy is doing." Hart said statistics showing that gambling revenue had grown more slowly than in previous years were "almost indicative of the pressures" of recession. Peter Collins, executive director of the National Responsible Gambling Programme, said the increase was, in real terms, "actually a small decline". Collins said that the programme, which runs the problem-gambling hotline, showed there had not been a significant increase in the number of calls to the hotline.
"It doesn't look as if problem gambling is related to general economic circumstances or availability (of casinos)," he said. "What we are more alarmed about is the number of unemployed people gambling. "If you want to reduce problem gambling, reduce unemployment." Addiction Action Campaign chief executive Warren Whitfield said the most important statistics were not published : "The (number) of problem gamblers and how much money they are spending." Whitfield said similar studies in Australia had found that some casinos made up to half of their profits from problem gamblers. The national gambling statistics indicated that 84.3% of the R16-billion gambling revenue in South Africa went to casinos. But, said Whitfield, the casinos spent only 0.1% of their income on prevention and rehabilitation. Trade and Industry Department spokesman Sidwell Medupe said the minister had established a "gambling review commission to assess gambling in general". - The Times, Avusa Group News - The Herald