Struggling Zimbabweans place their bets on chance

With the Zimbabwe economy in a continued spiral and the unemployment rate at above 80 percent a new craze of making money has emerged with betting and punting taking centre stage. Hundreds if not thousands of mostly males of various age groups are now taking to betting on sports especially football and horse racing in the fight to make a living.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (REUTERS) – At a popular betting house in Harare, the game of chance provides a lifeline for Zimbabweans struggling to provide for their families in tough economic times.

Less than 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s people are in formal employment, according to independent economists.

At Soccer Shop, hundreds of men between the ages of 18 and 55 – according to the owner of the betting house, spend their days placing bets mostly on international soccer matches and horse racing.

“I am just trying my luck, I can come with 5 US dollars and go home with 70 or 80 dollars. You know, the family needs to feed. They want something on the table. Out there at work there is nothing happening, its stuck. So you just come here and try your luck, sometimes you lose sometimes you win,” said one punter.

Weekends are the busiest time here at Soccer Shop, which has two outlets in the capital.

Gambling is not new in Zimbabwe but Soccer Shop manager, Peter Barr says sports betting has picked up in the last three years.

“With the advent of computer betting and multiple bets especially in soccer it has taken off like wildfire. There is an insatiable appetite amongst our gambling population to come and put their wits against the odds. Now, on lets say roulette or lottos where your fate is in the hands of a spinning ball going round or mechanical balls dropping for the lotto, here the punter works things out himself. He stands and falls by his own knowledge,” said Barr.

Zimbabwe’s economy shrank 45 percent in the decade to 2009 due to plummeting farming output and hyperinflation. It bounced back for three years after Zimbabwe dropped its own currency and adopted the dollar, but it has since stagnated as companies have failed to find the cash to grow.

In the capital Harare, college graduates compete with hawkers scratching out a living selling anything from mobile phone cards to herbal sex tonics, a measure of the decline of Zimbabwe’s “Sunshine City”.

Analysts say the growing queues at betting houses and the willingness for some punters to risk even the little they have on the outcome of a game is a symptom of a population that is desperate.

“That is a measure of desperation. I think most of them would far rather have a steady job, take home a steady income and be assured of another pay cheque at the end of the month and the certainty of being able to feed the family, pay the rent and pay school fees, all these sort of things are the very uncertain issues that are faced by people who do not have a steady job and wonder if they can make enough money this time to pay the rent, but they know they might lose a lot,” said Zimbabwean economist, John Robertson.

Growth in Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to pick up slightly to 3.2 percent this year from an estimated 3.1 percent in 2014. Authorities say low global commodity prices, a liquidity crunch in the financial sector, low domestic savings and lack of investment are responsible for weak growth.

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