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A Casino Quandary in Africa

27 November 2000

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Nov. 27, 2000 – As reported by the Christian Science Monitor: ``...Many argue that the negative effects of gambling at casinos like Gold Reef City outweigh any boost to the South African economy.

``…No other country has legalized as many different forms of gaming in so short a time, experts say. Horse racing was the only legal way to wager in South Africa until 1978, when the government allowed a few casinos to open far from major cities.

``Then in 1996, the new democratic government passed legislation to allow up to 40 casinos throughout the country. Lawmakers had high hopes for pumping revenue into South Africa's sluggish economy.

``Now, the country boasts 21 casinos, with more opening each month. In addition, bingo, lottery, and betting machines in bars have been legalized.

``Suddenly, this struggling third-world country, where almost 1 in 3 adults are unemployed, and the vast majority of those with jobs earn less than $500 per month, is caught up in games of chance.

``…Cars, buses, and pedestrians too poor for bus fare pour through the casinos' gates day and night. Within hours of its grand opening in September, Caesars reported more than 12,000 patrons - that's eight gamblers for each of the casino's slot machines. Revenue from the five casinos operating in and around Johannesburg totaled some $270 million last year.

``…Many here wager that casinos will deliver more than just a day's entertainment.

``The unexpected popularity of both the lottery and casinos has startled both the government and some South Africans. Some politicians have denounced gambling as "the new national sport of South Africa."

``Callers to radio talk shows have urged the government to bar poor people from the casinos, or to even prohibit all South Africans from participating in any form of gaming.

``The government has launched a study to identify harmful effects of this boom.

```In a developing country, you have to be careful,' cautions Peter Collins of the University of Cape Town's National Center for the Study of Gambling. `People are inadequately educated. They can be beguiled into believing that gambling is an easy way to solve their financial problems.

```We have a large population of poor people,' the professor adds. `They don't have to gamble very much before they are damaging their family...'"

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