What's The Deal With The Gambling Bill?

Published September 19, 2003 by OCR Editor

What's The Deal With The Gambling Bill?

The three-day public hearing on the National Gambling Bill had started, and parliament's two committees dealing with trade yesterday faced a barrage of complaints, allegations and counter-allegations on that matter.

Some of the submissions claimed that the bill was draconian, would result in the loss of thousands of jobs, put investments worth billions of rand in jeopardy and threaten black economic empowerment ventures. Others claimed that the bill could be much tougher on the gambling industry to help addicted gamblers, who brought misery to thousands of families throughout the country by getting hopelessly into debt.

A common complaint was, that despite claims by the department of trade and industry that it had consulted widely when drafting the bill - the one before the committee is the 11th version - this had not happened and the "unintended consequences" of the proposed law would be immense. One academic even warned that, in their haste to pass a law on a controversial issue that could win the government votes in the upcoming election, the department and parliament risked "substantial political embarrassment" if they allowed the bill to go through in its current form.

The bill, among other things, aims to limit the availability of credit in or near casinos or betting halls, restrict advertising, force casinos to close for at least six hours a day and make gambling premises provide counselling and other help to problem gamblers. In written submissions, the horse racing industry complained that the limit on credit could upset its long-standing "telebet" systems and the casinos claimed the restricted hours would discriminate against shift workers while limits on advertising and special accommodation offers at casinos could affect thousands of jobs and the viability of casino complexes.

Black entrepreneurs complained that the planned curbs on the roll-out of limited payout machines would badly affect many black-owned companies that had invested heavily in infrastructure and resented the fact that the department had queried the legitimacy or long-term viability of their investments in the industry.

The submissions contained vastly different estimates on how bad the gambling problem in South Africa was, with the Casino Association of SA claiming its members' business had shown "little real growth" since 1996. Anti-gambling activists, however, claimed that it was very serious and that the lottery was, in fact, the fastest growing part of the sector and all the curbs, especially on lavish advertising, should apply to it as well. Many submissions said that the bill, if passed into law, could be contested in court on constitutional grounds and lead to expensive litigation for all concerned.

The hearings continue today and Alec Erwin, the trade and industry minister, is due to respond to the submissions on Monday.

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