Unregulated gambling in South African townships: A policy conundrum?


This study was designed to explore the nature of informal or illegal gambling in South African townships, to investigate what motivates people to participate in this form of gambling and what they perceive are the associated benefits and dis-benefits. A series of focus group workshops was conducted with two groups of gamblers, all of whom had experience of some form of township gambling: one group currently lived in townships and the other had previously resided in townships. Gambling for the township residents was a far more frequent activity than for non-township residents and consumed substantially more of their time. The majority of the township residents classified themselves as unemployed, while of those who were unemployed, most people indicated that gambling was a major source of their income; some even described it as their only source of income. The most significant difference between what township and non-township residents expressed as wanting and getting from gambling was that the former indicated quite clearly and unanimously that what they sought and gained from gambling was money. Township residents were far more likely to indicate that they used gambling to balance their budgets than ex-township residents who gambled primarily at casinos. A lottery type game called “Fahfee” is the most widely spread and pervasive form of gambling and was unanimously portrayed as a necessary and beneficial form of support for the poor and unemployed. Lottery and Casino gambling were, in contrast, widely perceived by the township participants as being ‘rigged’ and unfair. Township Dice and cards were perceived as being ‘fairer’ and as allowing punters to be more in control than casino gambling. The downside of township gambling was reported to be high levels of violence, crime and insecurity surrounding, in particular, the game of Dice. There was widespread inability to calculate expected payoffs or odds, and an apparent belief that these were not particularly helpful skills for gamblers. In Fahfee, the reliance on dreams to guide choice of numbers appears to eradicate any interest in the odds, or of playing strategically. The findings of this study are preliminary but have serious policy implications for education and for gambling regulation in South Africa.

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