Although seemingly an innocent leisurely activity, gambling is known to be quite addictive and has led to bankruptcy and broken families and/or relationships for most, the world over.
Take a trip around Katutura on any given evening and you will not find a bar with a working gambling machine unoccupied by someone throwing their dollar in the slot.
“I am a regular gambler but it all depends on whether or not I have money. If I have some, then I will likely gamble. I play about ten times a week and spend about N$700 in the jackpot machine weekly,” says a resident of Oshitenda in Katutura, who, to protect his identity has only revealed himself as, Joe Blue.
Blue says on a good week, he can win up to N$200, making it a N$500 weekly loss. Whenever he loses significant amounts, he begins to regret playing and only then wonders if he has spent all his money or whether or not he even has a bag of mealie meal at home.
“I have been gambling for three years now and I can say losing is a terrible feeling. When you lose your money, you want to get it back, hence the urge to play more and more,” says Blue.
Gambling addiction, though not bodily harmful on its own, is often accompanied by other problems such as anxiety, which occurs when the gambler has lost their money. Such amounts of anxiety can cause strains in personal and even work relationships.
A local psychiatrist, Dr Willem Annandale, explains, “Although we still do not truly understand how the addiction develops, we know a neurological chemical is released in the process. The pleasure it gives the gambler makes them susceptible to addiction. It is not physically as dangerous as, say, drug or alcohol abuse but can be just as destructive.”
The journey to getting someone free of addiction is smoothened with major local gambling houses, such as the Kalahari Sands Hotel that work in partnership with the National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP). The NRGP helps willing addicts free of charge and are referred to by specially trained psychiatrists.
Gamblers can also sign a form to ban themselves voluntarily from the casino. Meaning, should they have a relapse, they would be barred from entering the casino. Unfortunately, this does not apply to the countless shebeens with jackpot machines across the country.
“There is not one universal cure for gambling. It is treated case by case through psychotherapy. The best way is to involve a partner; someone who would walk with ‘the patient’ to get them back on track whenever they veer,” Dr Annandale continues.
One of the helpful methods employed, according to the doctor, is changing the gambler’s mindset, particularly from expecting to win to doing it for fun, and appropriately expecting to use up all the money they have on the machine. This would keep them from chasing down losses, the doctor adds.
In Namibia, Telecom Namibia’s Nova Vita Rehabilitation Centre helps addicts, including gamblers, to regain sobriety. Potential beneficiaries include Telecom Namibia’s employees, staff of other private companies, Government workers and the public at large.
Tip: ‘Do you skip work to go gambling?’, ‘Do you ever gamble to get money to pay debts or resolve financial difficulties?’, ‘Do you often gamble until your last dollar has gone?’ A yes to any of these questions could be a clue that you are addicted to gambling, according to Dr Annandale.