Between a hard hit economy under the defacto one party dictatorship of Robert Mugabe dating to the 1980s, and a generally poor economy on the continent, the people of Zimbabwe have suffered some tough times, often fighting for survival against political enemies and lack of material resources. Throughout Mugabe’s rule, the primary industry which has long been a base of the local economy has seen a steady decline, whilst various kinds of mining and tourism have replaced it as the primary means of income generation.
It is in the face of super high employment rates – reaching as high as the 80% mark in the present day which official statistics do not show – and a despotic grip on power over the decades (thanks to alleged vote rigging and unscrupulous tactics in the Zimbabwe parliament) that casinos have become a large part of the touristic draw and overall economic boon on this part of the African continent. Even as the political future of the country remains in doubt while the spectre of Mugabe looms since he has survived democratic defeat in 2008, casinos offer a bright hope for the generated capital to reach the hands of the casino industry employers.
Betting Licences on Hold
In spite of the dire economic climes, with a rising unemployment rate that begets other social ills like violence and alcoholism, the government has decided to stop awarding betting licences in an attempt to slow down the surge of the number of gambling premises that have popped up over the years. What the United Nations described as a sector of ‘phenomenal growth,’ the then Deputy Home Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi once deemed gambling an area that ‘we need to control’ because ‘we can’t be betting everywhere.’
Meanwhile, because of low penetration of internet connections throughout the country, online casinos will not have an opportunity to take advantage of this relative dearth of and demand for gambling.
What kind of money is at stake? To put things into perspective, the News Agency of Nigeria reported that in that country, there is about $9 million being spent on gambling by some 60 million citizens aged between 18 and 40 years of age, a coveted demographic to be sure. That figure is made all the more impressive by the fact that it represents a daily amount being spent, which equates to about $585 million annually.
Meanwhile, Tanzania saw a 20 percent increase in spending on gambling between 2011 and 2012 which created $10 million in revenue through taxes. Uganda even managed to raise $3.6 million in taxes through gambling. These are the kinds of bonuses and freebies associated with the gambling impact on the economy that Zimbabwe cannot afford to miss out on.
What kind of jobs creation and money is Zimbabwe losing, then? In an already depressed economy, this seems to be a self-inflicted shot to the foot instead of a potential windfall for both the casino operators, those that are employed by the gambling industry, and the government itself who is missing out on potential tax dollars.
It is difficult to look at countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, where a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) late 2014 report on Africa’s gambling industry called ‘Raising the Stakes in Africa Gambling Outlook: 2014-2018’ predicts economic growth over the next couple of years. Any kind of economic stimulus is necessary for a country with such high unemployment rates like Zimbabwe.
With an infrastructure in which four major cities are equipped with eight legal gambling facilities where people can make bets on the show floor or at the horseracing tracks, the potential is certainly undeniable. One example of a successful venture is in Harare, the largest of the four cities where gambling can be done legally: it has three casinos featuring seven table games and 92 gaming machines of the slot and video poker variety. Meanwhile, Montclair Hotel and Casino stands as the single biggest casino with 102 gaming and video poker machines. If the internet infrastructure isn’t there for things like mobile slots, the Zimbabwe government has to seize the opportunity to boost the economy with more gambling sites.
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