Problem gamblers are prone to psychological problems

12:24 (GMT+2) Thu, 20 Sep 2012

"There is a 30% chance that a problem gambler will have another psychological problem such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders," according to the executive director of the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF) Professor Peter Collins.

Speaking at the Eastern Cape Gambling and Betting Board's (ECGBB) Port Elizabeth leg of its responsible gambling month outreach programme Wednesday, Collins says some United States estimates suggest about 75% of problem gamblers have at least one other serious psychological disorder.

"This has important implications for treatment and it is already bringing about changes in the treatment strategy adopted for those with problems. This year, we have introduced full psychiatric evaluations for all potential clients and begun to offer different forms of treatment ranging from minimal interventions such as motivational interviewing to full psychiatric care, for example those with bipolar disorder," says Collins.

Gambling is already accepted by more than 56% or about four million of Eastern Cape citizens as an entertainment activity. About 53% of Eastern Cape casino gamblers fall within the income category R3201 - R12800 with just over 6% of gamblers earning more than R12 800 a month.

Collins says while five National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP) surveys conducted since 2001 indicate problem gambling numbers have held steady or declined in South Africa, poor people are particularly vulnerable if they are young, unemployed men playing informal games at illegal venues. He says poor people in metropolitan areas tend to engage in the cheaper and geographically more accessible forms of gambling whether legal or illegal.

The ECGBB revealed that it would in October publish a list of all Legal Gambling sites in all local, district and metro municipalities in the Eastern Cape in an attempt to curb illegal and problem gambling.

"The outcomes of illegal gambling can be serious with punters or players having no recourse when cheated or feeling cheated during their participation in illegal operations and sites. The number of internet cafes operating internet gambling is growing particularly in the outer periphery of the Eastern Cape," says ECGBB chief executive Mabutho Zwane.

Collins explains that half the population of South Africa is under the legal age for gambling but many of them already gamble informally and online and this will problem will increase as ease of access to gambling via cell phone increases.

"Unless internet gambling can only be advertised by companies with land-based operations, which are licensed and therefore taxed and regulated in this country, online gambling at inadequately regulated offshore sites will continue to grow rapidly amongst South Africans both exacerbating problem gambling and losing tax revenues.

"The problems of land-based illegal gambling appears to be growing in South Africa and to be exacerbating existing social problems especially amongst young men who gamble and drink at shebeens," Collins adds.

The Eastern Cape is a serious player in the industry ranking fourth in gambling size behind giants Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The province is allocated five casino licences with four operational in Port Elizabeth (Boardwalk), East London (Hemmingways), Queenstown (Queens) and in Mbizana (Wild Coast Sun). The fifth licence has been issued for Mthatha.

While the ECGBB says it has done well in regulating the industry and collecting taxes from licencees, it admits it needs to beef up its focus on responsible gambling. Gambling taxes collected from the industry in the Eastern Cape jumped from R90 million in 2010/11 to R99 million in 2011/12 in relation to gross gaming revenue exceeding R1,2 billion. This is a slight increase from the gross gaming revenue of R1,17 billion in 2010/11.

Also falling within the ECGBB's regulatory eye is the horseracing industry. There are two racecourses in the province in Port Elizabeth as well as the Limited Payout Machine industry which has two route operators. Its headquarters are based in Port Elizabeth.