When betting becomes life for old folks

MUTARE - Mashonaland Turf Club betting hall in downtown Mutare could pass for an old people’s home common room.

Old men, some with failing sight, strain at small font on pieces of paper. Others shuffle around consulting their peers.

These oldies use the little dollars they have on betting. From horse races in South Africa to football matches in Europe, they know it all. For these grey-haired folk, betting is life.

“They are addicted gamblers and their families are struggling to get them out of the habit,” opines one young man in the hall, He claims to have walked in “just to observe”. Of the four television monitors in the hall, the biggest screens horse races and it is around this TV that the eastern border city’s senior citizens mostly huddle around. One of the veterans, who at 83 still prefers to be just called Philemon, says he has been betting on horse races since 1954. But he feels today’s “game” is too commercialised and the odds may as well be tempered with to limit successful bets although this will not stop him.

“My children are not working so I have to do this to get money for survival. It started as a pastime, but not anymore,” he says, adding he is not betting today because he is broke. Others in the hall say they are betting out of habit and admit the odds are they have lost more than they have won in their decades long betting lives.

“No one should lie to you that they will find success here. Even those with lucky charms are cleaned,” he said.

But these old timers will simply not stop.

Their expensive habits are worsening the burden on family members but they also show how the elderly have to keep hustling due to low or no retirement savings and schemes.

With unemployment at over 80 percent, the few that are employed have two generations to take care of apart from supporting their unemployed siblings. Zimbabwe’s senior citizens are now in an embarrassing position of having to compete for their children’s income with their grandchildren.

Philemon says he only received $25 in “pension” and can no longer get a proper job at his age.

“At least I am lucky I am hooked to betting so I sometimes win and can stay for days with some money in the pocket,” he says. - Mashonaland Turf Club

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