Peter van der Merwe
Peter van der Merwe

Casino culture rots our souls

Here’s one suggestion for helping ease South Africa’s economic and moral woes: close all casinos. Right now. For they have utterly no redeeming features whatsoever.

And while we’re at it, let’s draw a knife across the throat of that monstrosity called the lottery. At a time when South Africa is crying out for good old-fashioned thrift, we have been conditioned into thinking that the good times — financially, emotionally, morally — are but the press of a button or the shake of a dice away. You may not have enough money to buy bread this weekend, but don’t forget your lottery ticket! And then get down to Over The Barrel Casino, and win one of 12 luxury vehicles.

We’re in the midst of a global economic recession. But instead of doing something useful, like feeding the poor and educating our youth, the best thing the casino industry can do is to offer false hope to sad people. Their gambling halls are hideously garish caverns of noise and light, all designed to seduce people who can’t afford it out of their money.

Casinos are places that rob people of their basic human instincts. Once inside the belly of the beast, people forget how to be parents. They lock their children in cars in the parking lots, or desert them for hours in supervised child cages. They forget the value of hard work. After all, the big one is just around the corner. Didn’t you hear about so and so who won R1-million last week? I tell you, I’ve got a system. I’m going to beat them yet.

But the real deceit of casinos is the way they sell themselves to the public as places where you go to have fun. There’s nothing fun about a casino. There are two basic emotions in play: utter desperation, and overwhelming greed. You have people who either don’t have the money, and hope they’ll strike it rich; or people who have too much money, and have become so desensitised to its value that they can toss away eye-watering amounts of it on a whim.

Take a walk through a casino in the early hours of the morning. You’ll see the reception areas littered with the empty shells of people who have been chewed up and spat out by The Machine. Hollow-eyed and gaunt, they often don’t have the petrol money to get back home, let alone feed the families that are waiting for them. Now that they have no more money, they are barely tolerated. We’ve bled you dry; now go away. And don’t come back until you have more money.

The casinos will trot out the standard line about how they don’t force people to gamble. It’s adult people making their own choices. This is entertainment, after all! They will even tell you how they put little stickers on the machines warning people that they have to be over 18 to gamble. That winners know when to stop. That there’s a toll-free helpline available to you if you think you’re in trouble. Please. Spare us the horse manure.

Fact is, the casinos don’t care for a moment if you have a gambling problem that is tearing your family apart. They don’t have people patrolling the casino, finding patrons who look as though they may be in trouble, and gently counselling them. Their responsible gambling campaigns are not only pathetically inadequate, but deeply disingenuous. And they know it. Silly little billboards and stickers are about as likely to stop habitual gamblers from tossing away their money as a sticker on a bottle of booze is likely to make an alcoholic think twice about drinking it.

It is also strangely disconcerting that two of the biggest venues for live entertainment in Gauteng — the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City and Il Teatro at Montecasino — have sprung up on the back of casino operations. Have we become so tiny-minded as to be unable to attend a show without having to have a quick flutter afterwards? Why is the Civic Theatre engaged in a daily battle for survival, but Montecasino can stage Disney’s latest candyfloss? It is a sickening indictment our society that we are starting to believe the casinos’ spin that they are valid sources of entertainment.

So why does the government allow casinos to continue to spring up like poison mushrooms all over the country? The answer to that is fairly obvious. Money. Lots of it. The casinos make money hand over fist — the house really does always win — and their tax revenues keep Trevor Manuel beaming. But the real cost of these monstrosities — the shattered families, the traumatised children, the inexorable moral decay — is uncountable. If we are really serious about moral regeneration, we’ll shut down casinos right now and turn them into community education centres, where people are taught real skills — like how to work for your money.

  • brent

    Casino gambling is the best method ever devised by Mankind to re-distibute wealth from the Poor to the Rich, efficiently and thus have no redeeming feature.

    Shame on our ruling elite, Black and White.


  • Siyabonga Ntshingila

    The House Always Wins.

    Anyone who doesnt know that should NOT eb gambling.Anyone who does and still tries their luck-deserves no sympathy.

    But honestly-well managed and informed gambling is a good revenue spinner funding a lot of godd projects.I’d sooner ban smoking and booze.

    That’s deadly

  • pete ess

    And why is the lotto allowed to operate in such secrecy?
    Where is the accounting? Where are the auditors?
    Let me state my facts (and maybe the auditors will be shamed into telling us what their “honourable” profession does to look after our money – more especially money that is earmarked to alleviate suffering):

    I believe the lotto takes in R5bn a year;
    I believe R4,5bn is swallowed by the fatcats who own and run lotto;
    I believe 2% of the total actually reaches charities;
    Of that 2% I believe half goes to “charities” that are not really charities (eg sports bodies, etc) and do not benefit the poor;
    I believe no tax is paid by lotto;

    I’m wrong? Let’s have the full financials, then.

  • Perry Curling-Hope

    We already have enough of an overbearing Big Nanny government ‘intervening’ with ever increasing involvement in every aspect of our lives, making decisions on our behalf, and ‘protecting’ us against ourselves as if we were children.

    Weather to smoke, drink or gamble is a personal decision, not a public one, and government, as public servants, are not tasked with ‘allowing’ us this and disallowing us that.

    In a free country, people must bear the consequences of their personal decisions personally, and not lumber the public with onerous and invasive legislation because they cannot manage their finances, practice birth control and safe sex, or make sound judgment calls.

    Like casinos, medical ‘aid’ schemes peddle probability and risk, and are always the winners.
    They too make huge profits for their ‘industry’ sufficient to employ thousands and erect prestigious office complexes, all of which piggy backs onto escalating medical costs which the end user eventually pays.

    However, it is personal decision weather on wants to support such businesses or not and outside of authoritarian regimens, lies outside the ambit of the state.

  • Oosthuizen

    “Weather to smoke, drink or gamble is a personal decision, not a public one”

    Oh yes it is public decision. It is a fact that smoking, drinking and gambling places a huge unneccesary burden on health, funding and other public resource.

  • Gerry

    Peter, even though I agree with some points you make as to the effect of casinos, I am with Perry here.

    My long-time followers will know I’m an absolute stickler for personal responsibility. If you want to gamble, gamble. If you don’t, then don’t. The same goes for drinking, smoking, sex, lies and videotape. We do not need a government or a legislative body to tell us what we can and cannot do.

    While I do not dispute the crap that goes on in casinos, as per your examples, statistically how often does that happen? 1%? 5%? I doubt if that. For every how many gamblers that enter Montacasino, how many leave their kids in the car unattended? For every guy turning a card on a Blackjack table, how many of them are spending their kids’ school fees? Well, why should those who CAN gamble responsibly, and do NOT leave children unattended, be punished and penalised because of those who can’t gamble responsibly and who do leave their children?

    Why should the people who can enjoy a whisky or a few beers responsibly be subject to warning labels on alcohol because of the 2% that cannot handle their drink? Why should we dumb ourselves down to the lowest common denominator?

    Personally, I don’t enjoy gambling. I’ve done it about 5, 6 times in my life, and 5 times it was okay – you win some, you lose some. The 6th time was amazing, I was on holiday in Las Vegas (Lost everything, but gads, what an experience!). But its not something I’ll do often. But I’d like to have the choice. MY life, MY choice.

    “Freedom” simply means the freedom of choice. A blanket closure on casinos will remove my choice from me, and that, sir, is something I will not tolerate, just as I will not tolerate any limitation on personal liberty, be it my own or someone else’s, whether I participate or not. “Freedom” also means “responsibility”, and I think we can go a lot further by teaching responsibility and acting responsibly than we can by closing casinos, censoring movies, banning books and putting warning labels on booze and cigarettes.

  • Mike Atkins

    Hooray!! Somebody as last willing to tell it like it is!

    Most money that goes into the casino is taken away from basic foodstuffs and household necessities. In turn this is withheld from retailers and producers. Where it would dot he most good in the economy, creating real jobs.

  • Peter Van der Merwe

    Fair point, Perry. Especially as far as the medical aid industry is concerned! What I’m really suggesting is that an enterprise has a moral responsibility to its employees, clientele and greater community – and the casino industry fails all three of those.

  • Stephen

    If we are likening gambling to cigarettes and booze, then it is safe to assume that ‘freedom’ can be used i a similar context. Cigarettes are a nicotine delivery device, i.e, they create their own niche in your body, thus the addiction. It’s logical to assume that the tobacco industry new about this consequence and in fact exploited it.

    The question of freedom suddenly becomes blurry as the person who freely chose to participate is suddenly not as free to stop. This is because a particular weakness has been uncovered and manipulated for another’s gain.

    A very similar principle can be seen in the casino industry. The do much more than facilitate gambling. It is not uncommon knowledge that casinos have employed certain tactics to entice people into gambling for longer periods of time, e.g, cheap flat-rate parking. Also the sporadic ringing bells and lights of a winning machine is enough motivation for everyone playing to believe that they are next in line. A person with a potential gambling problem cannot stand a chance in such an environment.

    Of course the word responsibility was rightly mentioned. And yes we can say that it is up to the individual to restrain themselves and then shirk off our own responsibility/guilt in the situation.I am sorry but to claim for example that a smokers addiction is his own fault/responsibility is completely absurd, as surely the facilitator played a huge role in the equation. We are after all individuals, but we are individuals in a society and therefore also have a societal responsibility. That freedom to choose thing only works if we are all in fact equally informed and equipped enough to make those choices. But lets face it, certain groups with more power and more money more knowledge and more influence will always gain the upper hand in questions of ‘freedom’ such as this.

    Casinos in essence do not ‘play fair’ in their role, they exploit the weak, while submitting themselves to the bare minimum legislative requirements. I am not saying shut them down of necessity, but if we are going to have them, we need to seriously re-evaluate how we watch and regulate them, and spread the responsibility of the outcomes that may occur.

  • Khadija Sharife

    @Pete Ess, right on.

  • bazukile

    Yes brother, you have put it just right. I have made this argument over and over and most people are just willing to accept that this monster is part of our life. Gambling is one of the worst illness and many turn a blind eye. I salute your insightful nature and concern and most of all your way of communicating this important message through a credible news site

  • Michael Graaf

    On the issue of private/public nature of decisions: As long as something is regulated by government policy and/or licence, it is a public issue.
    By having licences, casinos & the lottery come to enjoy monopoly status; their competition is stamped out using state resources. Supposedly this is justifiable due to the revenue stream they bring to public coffers; hence the need for transparency so a full cost/benefit analysis can be done.

  • Paul;

    True enough…. many things should be done and if you cant do these…dont gamble:

    1. Use only you can afford to lose. Dont use bill $

    2. Use promo’s and gamble only till u get the promo. at my local place I play min bet till I get that then I tend to try the big bets when and only if I get enough small wins.

    3. Key thing – when you get the promo off the players card – and its now used up… cash out with whatever you won.
    For me that walkaway was anywhere from $2 to $680.00 by the time the promo is used up.
    If I cash out on this one before promo is used you only get half of it.

    Always pocket any major win and dont reuse that night.

    Budget your gambling, If you try to go 4 times a week… divide your entertainment $$ by 4.

    Never get greedy.

    In my case I can compare myself to a friend & his dad.

    Both of us have played for a year with promo’s.
    After 2008 they have less than zero (ie; the ended up losing $$ even with the $10/play promo (3 times a week per person).

    Me & my wife average over all a minimum of $100 a week and lately have been double that.

    I consider the greatest evil is our politics and too many (on both sides) are ignoring too much of what they are doing.

  • Rumpaw

    It is irrelevant if gambling is public, private, regulated, monopolised, or has free competition – generally it is still a voluntary tax on the statistically challenged. It is a redistribution of wealth to the already rich that is meritocratic since it is not imposed directly on the intelligent. The question is; if addictive personality types are protected from themselves, is it of benefit to others, and to whom – and could those other persons not be benefited in some better way?

    The ‘morality’ argument is irrational and offensive – whose morals should be imposed on whom? Is that kind of imposition not itself immoral? Is it possible to protect individuals from all of their ‘incorrect’ decisions? Which ruling elite determines what is ‘correct’?

    To be consistent are you also proposing to ban alcohol rather than have responsible drinking stickers?

    What if someone gambles as a display of wealth – do you propose to outlaw all other displays of wealth? Instead of attacking wealth inequality you patronize the poor by essentially saying that they should be excluded from an activity that would otherwise be ok for the sufficiently wealthy to indulge in once in a while You imply that unlike the wealthy the poor obviously lack discipline and self control and therefore have to be protected from themselves.

    An alternate solution would be to have equal redistribution of wealth.

  • Steve Woodhall

    I cannot agree more…

    Occasionally I end up eating in a restaurant somewhere like Montecasino. Walking past the one-armed bandits, the people playing them remind me of rats in a lab experiment, pressing a button to get a reward…

    Dehumanising is the word I think!