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Living off gambling, poking and betting
17th January, 23:00Kundai Marunya and Tiller Maringa
They gather around a television set shouting on top of their voices, urging the hounds to race on. Cheers and growls are heard every now and again, depending on which dog is leading. Some recede to silence, holding their breath, as the race closes to the end.
When it finally does end, some erupt in delirium while to some, grief of heavy losses are felt in their grunts or silent acceptance.
This is the atmosphere at many sports betting houses, where hundreds are put in, thousands won or lost, all depending on one's luck.
In the wake of unemployment and economic hardships, many people have resorted to gambling to earn a living.
They throw into play large amounts, betting on, be it dog or horse racing, sports, and even virtual football, hoping to score a lucrative win to take home at the end of the day.
The rich throng casinos, gambling either to make more money or just for the fun of it.
There are also those who prefer the traditional gambling, the card games (njuga) which is prevalent in low income communities.
Gambling has grown over the years such that when you sit among its participants, you may not understand their terminology and lingo.
The astounding part of the lingo is that even in other parts of the country, way outside Harare, the language is the same.
The difference only lays in the types of gambling.
A tour of sports betting houses, which dominate gambling, reveals that the most played games are Greyhound Race, Lucky Six and Virtual Soccer.
These are preferred as they take the shortest time, which is three minutes, giving an instant sensation as compared to soccer which is played over 90 or more minutes.
Virtual soccer is the most popular game, especially for the young.
In this game, popular phrases that are thrown around are, "mangoma or over 4,5" referring to odds of scoring five goals, and "malawi" referring to no goal, while some stick to predicting exact score lines.
Betting stake starts at $5.
The most paying odds are "mangoma", exact score line, "win yeshiri" which refers to a win for the disadvantaged.
For a $5 bet one can pocket between $20 and $40.
Lucky Six is the most paying game.
In this game, a gambler is expected to pick six balls out of about 30 coloured balls.
The probability of winning is very slim.
Slim as the winning odds maybe, there are some testimonies of mega winnings in the game, one of which was shared by a regular gambler only identified as Shumba.
One evening, a couple of months ago, he smiled all the way home after scooping $1 060 playing Lucky Six.
Greyhound and Horse races are almost similar in terms of the odds, but the difference is that; Greyhound race is mostly played by youths and horse race by the elderly.
There are also jackpots to be won using the serial number of the ticket on a placed bet on virtual soccer and greyhound race.
The serial number is picked at random and displayed at the screen in various betting houses to announce the winner and probably to lure more gamblers into playing the game.
To draw luck to their sides many have been accused of using juju in gambling.
There are a few regular punters who are said to always win.
Some have been published in newspapers for winning cars at retail outlets promotions, including Chibuku draw, Castle Tankard and OK Grand Challenge.
Self-professed sangoma, Sekuru Jorusamu Banda, said he gives many gamblers juju for luck.
"Be it gamblers or business people, everyone needs luck on their side, so they come to me," he said.
The seemingly lucrative gambling enterprise has had detrimental effects on society.
Social commentator Tashinga Matsika said gambling was highly addictive and could destroy lives.
"Many people gamble to raise money, but end up losing the little they have and they are left worse off," he said.
"Marriages are broken, salaries are lost and relationships left irreparable because of the addiction that comes with gambling.
"I'm sure many people who frequent gambling spots have heard of a man who gambled away the money he had raised for lobola on the day he was supposed to get married.
"All he wanted was to raise a little bit more."
Matsika said some fail to bear losses and end up committing suicide.
Whether done in an exquisite environment or on the street corner, gambling seems to be destroying more lives than benefiting them.
Augustine Zinamo, who frequents betting places, highlighted that many gamblers incurred losses, leading to stress.
He attested that some end up selling their belongings, including cell phones, just to bet a few more times, in the hope that they may squeeze a win big enough to buy back the phone and remain with some change.
The risks and losses involved in gambling are causing many problems in Elisha Nyamudoka's marriage, a self-confessed gambler.
"Just last week, I had a serious argument with my wife after failing to explain where the money had gone," he said.
"I wouldn't expect her to understand that I gambled to raise more money for my family's upkeep."
The mushrooming of sports betting centres has come as a blessing to vendors who throng the spaces trading in sweets, boiled eggs, maputi and various other snacks.
"I pocket at least $300 selling snacks and cigarettes at sports betting centres," said Trevor Mbirimi.
Mbirimi's business day starts at 8:30am when the betting houses open and ends after 9pm when he finally retires.
"I frequently go to replenish my supplies during the course of the day," he said.
"My wife usually brings a fresh supply of eggs soon after lunch time."
Cell phone and electric gadget dealers have found a lucrative business in betting houses.
They prey on the addicted who resort to selling their valuables to keep betting after losing their float balance.
In most high density suburbs, the Lottering and Gaming Act which regulates the operations of the lottery and gaming is no longer followed.
People bet when playing games like pool without a licence from the Lottering and Gaming Board.
Though illegal, gamblers are defiant of the laws as they continue playing games like "chigoza" using coins and "njuga" as a way of raising funds and to sustain their livelihoods.