ZIMBABWE – SPORTS BETTING’S GRIM FUTURE
By Iwo Bulski
LOCATED along Robert Mugabe Road, just before it intersects with Simon Muzenda Street (former Fourth Street), Supabets is usually a hive of activity as gamblers jostle to place their wagers on popular football leagues, be it in England, Spain, Italy or Germany.
Depending on the day, or time of day, this commodious two-storey building, among many others dotted around the Central Business District (CBD), usually houses punters in their hundreds, all eager to increase their winnings on one of the many sporting disciplines the betting house has to offer.
It could horse racing, football, cricket, rugby, basketball or the old table tennis, American football or boxing.
However, as the world continues to grapple with the impact of the coronavirus, which has since been declared a global pandemic, not many industries have been reeling from this disaster like the sports betting business.
The fear and anxiety that has gripped the business has become apparent. Moor’s World of Sport (MWOS) managing director Richard Moor told The Sunday Mail Sport that “without any major sporting events”, they “have little to offer” to their customers.
“Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on us. We have over 50 outlets countrywide, employing over 700 people, many of whom are the sole breadwinners of their families. We fear shop closures if things do not normalise, but for now, we are trying to remain positive. We have allowed most of our staff to go on paid leave until things normalise again, and this is, primarily, for their own health,” – he said.
The domino effect of continued suspensions of major sporting events is also being felt by Africabet.
The company’s corporate affairs executive, Tarisai Chipamaunga, said activity in the industry is presently subdued.
“The betting industry across the globe has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic as most sporting and horse racing activities have either been cancelled or postponed. This means that activity within the industry and within our branch network across the country has been grossly affected. In other jurisdictions, companies have been offered bailout packages by their governments to mitigate the negative financial impact of the virus,” – said Chipamaunga.
Sports betting — itself an activity of predicting sports results and placing a wager on the outcome — is a multibillion-dollar business that, over the years, has gained in momentum and marketability.
The frequency of sports bets varies by culture, with the vast majority of bets being placed on association football, basketball, hockey, track cycling, auto-racing, mixed martial arts, including amateur and professional boxing. However, the industry has been hit, and hit hard, by the coronavirus, which continues to spread across the globe.
In fact, not since World War II has the world of sport come to such an abrupt stop.
And punters are singing the blues.
“What is happening is that owing to the suspension of most sporting disciplines, there is not much to wager on,” said one punter. “We have been forced to resort to virtual gambling, which has more to do with luck. Virtual gambling lasts for less than a minute, and it is about luck as these are all pre-recorded, and there is no information or statistics to look at before you place your bet.”
“You are likely to get poorer in less than a minute, or, in the odd case, richer, depending on your luck.
“I have lost roughly a thousand dollars in the week that I have tried my luck with virtual gambling,” he said.
Bookmakers, however, believe that legalising online betting might give relief to the industry.
“We welcome measures being taken by the Government to combat the spread of COVID-19, and as Africabet, support all recommendations and directives,” – said Chipamaunga.
“Any measure introduced by Government will affect our normal social and economic activities, particularly in our business where there is now a restriction of no more than 100 people in any one place.
“Unlike the rest of the world, online betting is still not yet permitted in Zimbabwe and this presents an opportune time for our regulators and Government to introduce online betting, which is prevalent in all countries across the world,” she said.
MWOS says “the health of our population is more important than sales”.
“For those that do visit us, we are restricting the number of people allowed through the doors to 100 as advised, and providing soap and sanitisers.