Bingo move draws flak

2014-09-10 00:00

DION Reddy took his own life after gambling away R1 million in six months.

The Durban teacher just couldn’t admit to his family what he’d done with his medical pension.

Yesterday, his brother took a microphone and told the heartbreaking story at Durban’s first public hearing on whether to allow “mini casinos” with electronic bingo machines at shopping malls. Four operators have applied for licences at 13 malls, including the Pavilion and Amanzimtoti’s Galleria.

In a quavering voice, pastor Mervin Reddy told the KZN Gaming and Betting Board: “I am sharing my life experience because I don’t want the same thing to happen to other families.

“We will not allow electronic bingo terminals in malls.” Reddy told The Witness that — despite no previous history with gambling — his 47-year-old brother had become addicted to gambling in secret, “starting small with the slots, and R50 bets”.

The secondary school geography teacher — a father of two — left no suicide note, but racked up the massive loss while medically boarded, said Reddy.

Meanwhile, he said a close friend in Durban lost both his home and his business “after starting his habit with the little slot machines at the Phoenix Plaza”.

“We already see these bingo machines at pubs and taverns, but the effect would be far worse at shopping malls, because of the access, and we take our families and kids there,” he said.

“Men get bored while their wives shop — surely they will end up trying their luck while the missus shops, and get hooked.”

Reddy’s appeal was the most personal of the objections presented at the hearing at Westville Country Club, which ranged from legal to economic and moral.

Casino magnate Vivienne Reddy showed up in person, and later described the new licences as “unfair”.

Justin Marillier, representing Umfolozi Casino in Empangeni, argued that the electronic terminals “do not fall within the definition of ‘bingo’ contained in the KZN Gaming and Betting Board Act”.

However, Advocate Ismail Jamie, representing Galaxy Bingo, said the objections raised were irrelevant.

“We have heard many objections about the ills of gambling but gambling is legal. We can say the same about tobacco and alcohol but you can still find [these] in malls. And those that are concerned about children, my client has made sure that there will be stringent conditions to prevent children under the age of 18 to enter the premises.”

Galaxy directs those who experience “problems” with gambling to seek help at the National Responsible Gambling Programme.

Gaming board chairperson Sibusisiwe Zulu said: “We are not rolling out new bingo halls in the province. In fact we have reduced the number of halls from 44 to 22 halls.

“Today’s application is for using machines called electronic bingo terminals for some of those halls.”

Sham Maharaj, chair of the The People’s Forum Against Electronic Bingo, said another concern was a heightened risk of robbery at malls.

He said electronic bingo applicants would be given a “hearty reception” — including a public demonstration — at a hearing in Phoenix tomorrow.

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