Betting, the new cash cow in Zimbabwe
Terence Machipisa, 24 holds firmly a betting slip in his right hand while his eyes gaze on a television screen inside a betting house.
Machipisa is among dozens of male betting fanatics sitting on the edge of their seat as their cheer on horses racing live on screen.
He put his money on a winning horse and Machipisa leaps for joy.
He has just won US$100.
It is a good day in office for the college dropout who has turned to betting to eke out a living.
The smirk on his face betrays a relieved man.
After cashing his ticket, one would think Machipisa is going to leave the betting parlour, but his day has just begun.
His winning streak will not just end with horses, there is avatar soccer to play.
He reaches out to his pocket for a dollar, which he immediately hands to a cashier over the counter.
With the English premier league off season, which often gives cheers to habitual gamblers, betting halls remain full of male enthusiasts.
“It is difficult as you cannot judge the abilities of the avatar teams that would be playing. With a real soccer match, you can predict whether your team is going to win, but that is not the case with virtual matches,” Machipisa said.
“There is no actual sporting activity to bet out there. The UEFA Nations League just ended. Now people can bet on dogs and horse racing, those are the only available options.”
In avatar football, a top team can be beaten by a bottom table side.
Imagine English Champions, Manchester City losing to Wigan Athletic.
“Your team can still get beat despite its real-life abilities,” he said.
As the English Premiership is on break, betting fanatics have turned to virtual soccer.
Before he struck gold, Machipisa would earn US$5.90 after buying a ZW$300 ticket, while on many occasions, he would go empty-handed.
One can get a meager US$2.45 in prize money from betting on the home team to win. A correct prediction of a halftime win can see one walking away US$3.70 and US$1.71 for a halftime draw.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of an economic decline and with widespread unemployment, many have taken to sports betting.
A walk central Harare, one cannot fail to see the proliferation of gambling houses.
Online betting websites are also milking the hungry market.
Able bodied men, most of whom lost employment due to economic decline litter these places.
With floors littered with betting slips, the animated faces of desperate men looking to take home food can be seen here.
Sheer luck and instinct are the hallmark of successful betting.
Those who lose always want to try again.
Maybe lady luck would smile on them, but the result is often, addiction
Machipisa says the prize money tag makes betting even more addictive.
“Once you win, you will always want to continue playing,” he says. “Losing makes it even worse. You will always want to recover your money, which proves to be an uphill task.
“The more you try, the more you fail. But, there are always lucky days. It is a trial and error. Some people may make money, but as for us, we just get transport money and others,” he says.
Munesu Mandipangira, 34 a father of two wakes up each morning to this betting house.
“If I don’t bet that means I have no money,” he says. “If my brother in the diaspora doesn’t send money, that means I am broke that month. My wife gives me US$2 every morning from her vending proceeds so that I can bet,” he adds.
His friend last week won, a handsome US$500 and now Mandipangira believes it is now his turn.
He comes to the betting hall each day with the hope of getting rich.
The father of two hopes that he will not only win money, enough to secure his children’s school fees and rentals each month.
“Like any man, I feel hurt when I see my children seated at home without school fees. It is depressing and only God can help us, “he said. “No one wants to come here every day; every man deserves a good job and a decent salary.”
With Zimbabwe’s inflation now at 192% and earnings eroded daily, many families are going to the extremes to make a living.
Urban poverty is also growing each day, with nearly 3 million people in the throes of hunger this year.
And until these screen-gazing men get decent jobs, they will continue to troop daily into this betting house. Maybe they can get a dollar or maybe strike a jackpot that will pull them out of the shackles of poverty.