A QUICK view from outside a betting shop, SUPABETS which reward players with Free bets, along Robert Mugabe Avenue in Harare, paints a picture of a hive of activity as hordes of people of all ages briskly walk in and out of the teeming building.
But as you get to the door, thick dense and stuffy air engulfs you. Upon entry the first thing that catches your attention is the packed large hall, swarming with scores of young, middle-aged and old men of working and non-working classes in neat long queues, while others, if not in mini-conferences, are deeply engrossed in the television sets hanging from the roof with each showing a different sport from the other.
This is arguably the most popular shop in Harare, the home of sports betting — an activity that has taken the capital’s sports fans and fortune-seekers by storm.
Before reading the game, one could be forgiven for thinking you have arrived at some stock exchange of sorts.
No wonder many Wall Street dealers like dabbling in sports betting. While football is extremely popular in betting, the Super Bowl in the United States is one of the biggest sports betting events globally. Wall Street brokers do not miss out.
Americans bet an estimated US$380 billion each year on sports, so it’s easy to see why fans may be tempted to gamble on their favourite teams and athletes.
In Wall Street terms, those who know, say betting on the Super Bowl, is like trading S&P 500 Futures contracts which contain many of the largest companies in the world. The S&P Futures contract is the most liquid equity index product in the world. Similarly, the Super Bowl is one of the most liquid sports betting events.
Many of the strategies and tactics bettors use are similar to what we see on Wall Street.
In fact, sports gamblers have lots in common with stock market brokers and investors: they both believe they can predict the future, and they sometimes fall into the trap of making decisions with their hearts instead of their brains. And, of course, they both hate to lose.
Yet there are differences between sports betting and stock market trading. Gambling on sports may be more fun and leisurely, but it’s definitely a more risky venture than putting it in the stock market. In the final analysis, investors have the chance to make more money because there are fewer downside risks compared to sports betting which is more like a zero-sum game.
Sports betting, which resolves around predicting game results and placing wagers on outcomes — which is a form of gambling, uses different types of bets depending on the sport.
The common types of bets include straight bets, proposition bets, parlays, progressive parlays, teasers, if bets, future wagers, head to head, totals, and many more. Placing bets is always associated with risks, therefore you have to be very careful in placing bets.
While there are other players that have been offering the same services for a long time in Harare, the arrival of SoccerShop and SUPABETS has revolutionised sports betting in the country and helped it increasingly gain acceptance.
In a country where over 85% of the population is unemployed, anything that can bring income is likely to gain popularity, and sports betting is now a full time engagement for some.
Factors such as liquidity crunch, low capacity utilisation and obsolete equipment have quickened company closures and fuelled unemployment in the country. This has driven some people towards gambling for economic survival, while a few others still gamble for entertainment.
In the three months of 2015, about 1 011 jobs were lost at 67 companies and last year 7 000 people lost their jobs, according to the country’s Retrenchment Board.
This comes hard on the heels of disclosures by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa during his 2015 national budget presentation that 55 443 workers lost their jobs after the closure of 4 610 companies between 2011 and 2014.
Zanu PF’s promise to create jobs 2,2 million via its indigenisation and empowerment drive has remained a pipedream.
It is estimated that about 40 000 students who graduate from universities and other tertiary institutions from across the country join millions of other jobless people and eventually end up vending on the streets or fill up betting halls to make ends meet.
The most popular betting game among punters in the country is football, but there are some, though very few, who wager on disciplines such as tennis, Formula 1 and cricket, to name only a few.
Horse racing is the second most popular after football.
Zimbabwe has seen a recent explosion in sport betting.
According to the chairman of Mashonaland Bookmakers Association Peter Barr, who spoke not on behalf of the association but also expressed his personal views on sport betting, in the Central Business District (CBD) the number of betting shops has grown from about seven to 30 in the last 30 months.
“We feel they may not issue licenses in CBD because its now saturated .Business in CBD is nowhere near as viable as two years ago. When there were few licenses it was far more viable than now because of increased number of betting shops,” Barr said.
“The registration fee to the Bookmakers board is US$200 and US$500 is to be deposited in the board’s account and this will be used as security in case of a payout default. An amount of US$500 has to be paid to the Lotteries and Gaming board to obtain an enabling licence to construct the premises. After meeting the required standards the applicant should pay US$500 to the gaming board to issue the trading licence.”
Government in May announced that it has stopped issuing out betting licences to limit the surge of sports gambling and lotteries in the country.
Deputy Home Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said betting needed to be kept under control. He said more and more people were engaging in betting and there were too many operators offering services.
One punter Shine Munjanja (23) said this week: “The reason I bet is because I was retrenched; so I have nothing to do. I was drawn into betting by a friend. It is essentially because of poverty that I am doing this.
“I am sure that if I had a full-time job, I wouldn’t be here. I started betting in January this year to survive because there are no jobs out there. I have no option but to continue betting.”
Munjanja used to work for a construction company in Harare. He was retrenched last year and has no prospects of getting another job.
Living with his wife in Epworth in a house with no electricity, he gets US$25 a month from rentals and makes the rest from betting.
Munjanja’s favourite betting sport is dog racing.
While he can make as much as US$40 from a US$1 on some days, there are times he goes home with nothing and has to borrow US$0,50 for bus fare from fellow punters.
In one betting hall long queues can be seen as the punters place their bets.
However, a subdued atmosphere engulfs the huge hall — there is no animated chatter. At one end of the room, both the elderly and young sit at tables, some in pairs and others in groups of four, whispering betting tips to each other, occasionally breaking off to watch either horse or dog races on giant TV screens.
At the other end of the room, a bunch of younger men is deeply engrossed in an Asian league soccer match. The sombre mood is suddenly broken by boisterous cheers of youths celebrating a goal.
With the most popular leagues, like the Barclays English Premier, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga currently off-season, punters are placing bets on teams playing in leagues in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Norway, Sweden and Ireland, in addition to the Copa America, Europe Under-21, Europe Under-17 and Women’s World Club soccer.
Wimbledon championships are currently on and proving to be also popular among punters.
At some betting shops, a special counter is reserved for the uniformed forces, but at another several army, prisons and police officers are among those in the long queues.
Defying the odds, two women also join the long queues to also try their luck against all odds.
A supervisor, who asked not to be named, at one of the betting shops said women constitute 5% of their clientele. He said dog racing is the most popular among the women.
Betting has become such a phenomenon in Harare and is now sweeping to other towns across the country on the fervent hope of getting quick returns on their cash.
Another punter Thomas Sithole said the highest amount he has won was US$400 from a US$20 wager.
“Betting is not for the unemployed only. I am a contract worker so when I am not at work I come here to bet,” Sithole said.
“I bet until I win and when I win, I stop and only come back the next day. I use the money to buy food, pay rentals and transport fares. The bookies must be making a lot of money because in a day as many as 15 000 people can place bets but only a few win.”
Sithole is a father of three and pays US$80 in rentals for his Ruwa home. He said his wife does not know that he is into betting which some confuse with gambling.
Betting is the action of putting money on the outcome of a race, game or other unpredictable event, while gambling is to take risky action in the hope of a desired result.
Tawanda Moyo (35) said betting helps supplement his US$350 monthly income.
“Coming here is strategic to sustain my income. Today I played US$2 and won US$50,” he said.
Moyo said he uses the money he wins from betting to pay US$200 in rentals in Prospect and for the upkeep of his three children.
Godfrey Kanyenze said the economic free-fall has cultivated a culture of gaming and a casino economy.
“It’s a reflection of desperation in the absence of formal employment and in the context of endemic poverty. It does not create jobs. It is not sustainable because it creates a get-rich-quick culture and laziness. It is not a God-ordained source of survival,” he said. “It’s an indication of problems facing the country in our context.”