Putting the cards on the table

2015-05-08 09:12
Belinda Scott

Belinda Scott (Jonathan Burton)

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IT is unfortunate that both the piece by reporter Jonathan Erasmus regarding betting on foreign lotteries and the editorial on the same subject, contain important errors of fact and unsupported conjecture.

Although Weekend Witness

did seek and receive from the Treasury a detailed explanation of the notice published in the Provincial Gazette, the publication of the article and the editorial have resulted in the public being misinformed regarding the recent decision taken by the MEC for Finance.

Firstly, only the MEC for Finance and not the KwaZulu-Natal Gaming and Betting Board, is empowered to approve (or refuse) applications to allow betting on “other events or contingencies” (a term defined in the legislation), such as foreign lotteries. Such applications (usually made by licensed bookmakers) are not approved without first thoroughly considering, inter alia, whether the approval may result in bettors being misled, or in the event being corrupted by betting thereon and whether betting on the event would offend public morals. Betting may not take place on an event that is unlawful.

Secondly, such approvals do not constitute more opportunities for gambling. Such approvals do not change the number of betting outlets in the province. They do not make it possible “… for people to place bets from the comfort of their homes”, or make betting cheaper (unless the editor means that it saves the poor the air fare to Russia to place a bet on a Russian lottery, in which case we would have to agree). They simply meet a demand from existing bettors to bet on different subject matter — the approval allows a wider choice than horse racing and sport. (A bookmaker is unrestricted in offering betting opportunities on horse racing and sport.) These new choices are not promoted by the government, nor are they routinely publicised by bookmakers.

In this instance, Weekend Witness

, supposedly seeking to spread awareness of the dangers inherent in betting on foreign lotteries, even as it condemns the MEC’s decision with undue haste, has done more, by sensationalising the issue, to promote betting on foreign lotteries, than the entire betting industry in the province has done to date.

Thirdly, among the nine provinces, KwaZulu-Natal has by far the most conservative approach regarding betting on “other events or contingencies”. In most other provinces, betting on “other events or contingencies” is by default unrestricted — such events are treated almost identically to sport and horse racing. The only restriction is that the event upon which bets are placed cannot be an unlawful event (eg illegal drag racing on city streets). In some provinces, the gambling regulator can intervene to stop betting on subject matter that it deems inappropriate.

Only in KwaZulu-Natal is the default position that betting on “other events or contingencies” is illegal, unless approved by the MEC responsible for regulating gambling. Despite this, the article by Erasmus opens with the untrue statement: “KwaZulu-Natal residents can bet on almost anything, with bookies maintaining that if the price is right, and the odds are good, it is game on” and compounds the misleading nature of the article through the caption below the accompanying photo, which implies that KZN residents can lawfully bet on the name to be given to the royal baby, which is not the case. This is extremely irresponsible reporting.

Lastly, the claim made in the editorial that “what should be a recreational activity” (ie gambling) “all too easily becomes an addiction”, is obviously pure conjecture and is certainly not supported by numerous studies undertaken in this country on problem gambling. Such studies have repeatedly confirmed that as gambling opportunities have slowly grown since the advent of the first casinos, problem gambling has actually declined and has stabilised. These studies have shown that the vast majority of gamblers gamble without serious problems. They indicate that the majority of the poor who have gambling problems are not gambling in the licensed gambling outlets; they gamble illegally on dice, cards and fahfee, in close proximity to their homes.

In pointing this out, I in no way seek to minimise the very serious problem of gambling addiction. I merely wish to present the true picture, in relation to the decision that I took regarding betting on foreign lotteries.

• Belinda Scott is the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Finance

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