Licensed betting house Moors World of Sport (MWOS) continues to operate some of its branches across the country in theory as internet operations but in practice having staff continually going into the street outside to deal with the public, thus potentially running foul of both lockdown regulations and of the betting law.
Under lockdown regulations, betting shops are neither an essential service, which allows them to operate at all levels of lockdown, nor one of the economic sectors allowed to operate under level four of the lockdown. While lockdown rules do not bar non-essential and non-exempted businesses from operating, they cannot open their doors to customers, their staff can neither assemble and nor be exempted from movement bans.
Thus the owner of any one-person business working from home and dealing with all customers online can technically operate, most not on the exempted lists cannot.
Public space gambling is banned, with licensed gambling only allowed in approved premises. It is this legal requirement that has closed most betting shops under the level four lockdown.
Investigations by The Herald from the end of January have established that Moors continues to operate in a well-coordinated way that allows punters to place their bets and claim winnings at some of their branches dotted in city centres and high density residential areas.
As of Tuesday, The Herald had visited MWOS branches at Gwenyambira Shops in Mufakose, in Gazaland, at Machipisa Shopping Centre (along 3rd Street), at Speke House in central Harare, in Zengeza 2 and Chikwanha shopping centres in Chitungwiza, at Mkoba 6 in Gweru and in Mutare’s Dangamvura (along Tembwe Street).
Most branches would open on alternate days, although the Mufakose branch operated throughout the period under observation.
When The Herald undercover crew visited the Moors branch in Mufakose on Tuesday around 9.45am, the street outside was teeming with punters scribbling figures of their dreams on pieces of paper. Each one of them was engaged in his reverie of celebrations that usually follow gruelling 90 minutes of anxiety, pain and frustration.
They gathered around the bus shelters along Muriranyenze Street, although a few could be seen milling around the closed shop. Punters were not allowed inside, as lip service was paid to the lockdown.
The reporter joined the group of more than 50 punters waiting to place their bets, almost all unmindful of social distancing and masking regulations.
Those without internet access would get assistance from enterprising young men, who charged anything between $10 and $20 to generate betting codes.
Armed with his betting code, courtesy of one of the guys, the reporter waited for the return of the “Moors man”, who had just left with another batch of bets collected in the street and taken back to the betting shop.
After about 30 minutes, he came back with tickets and change for those who had placed their bets earlier. Punters crowded closer, and soon there was pushing and shoving as he called out names and gave out tickets, and admonishing those who had given him a torrid time back in the ticketing office by supplying incorrect information.
He then collected more than 80 bets and returned to the premises. While he was gone, discussions continued under the shelters and in the street on how to hit it big in the betting terrain, and how so and so lost or won so much.
It was evident that some were addicted to the game which made them come back every day regardless of whether they were winning or losing. The reporter gleaned that the MOWS branch at Gwenyambira Shopping Centre in Mufakose was operating like this even before 30 January.
The dark clouds that were gathering all along suddenly unleashed a momentary downpour; a situation that played against the secretive operation. Promptly, the hordes besieged the window demanding their tickets. They complained that the cashier was exposing them to the police by keeping them crowded for long.
They pointed out that the cashier now running the shop was slow as compared to the one whose shift had just ended. Indeed, he was. The cashiers work in weekly shifts, The Herald gathered.
As the pressure mounted and the din increased, the cashier opened the window and served a few punters, then thought better of it; ordered everyone to return to the terminus and closed the window. He finally emerged, carrying the tickets, scraps of paper, bond notes and US dollar bills in hand, and strutted towards the terminus.
Again, there was disorder, pushing and shoving with numbers swelling. The prized ticket tucked in the coin pocket of his jeans, the reporter disappeared, leaving hordes of other punters waiting for their date with the gambling goddess of fortune, with the same process playing out all over again.
Other branches visited were not that indiscreet. The branches opened alternate days, in a well-coordinated manner that would not easily allow strangers to simply walk up and bet. You had to be known around.
The Gazaland and Zengeza 2 branches would open early in the morning and be closed by mid-morning. They would later open surreptitiously and close just as secretly, but The Herald reporter managed to place a bet at the later branch on January 30.
Successful betting was also done at the Gweru and Mutare branches.
No punters could be seen milling around the Machipisa branch on three occasions, probably because of its proximity to Machipisa Police Station, although sources maintained that it sometimes opened.
The Speke House branch in central Harare was operating on 8, 9 and 10 February when The Herald visited with scores of punters freely placing their bets through the open screens.
Zimbabwe Lotteries and Gaming Board chief executive, Mr. Heavens Gonga said although he agreed that casinos and other gaming entities were supposed to be compliant with lockdown regulations, the board had no power to arrest or enforce the lockdown as this was the duty of the police.
“The board’s role is to grant, renew and terminate licences as well as regulate and control the operations of all lotteries and gaming activities to ensure that licensees comply with the conditions of their licences in terms of the Lotteries and Gaming Act,” Mr. Gonga said.
“It is the mandate of the police to enforce the national lockdown as we have no arresting powers. When an arrest has been made and there is a conviction, then we act on that court order to either cancel or revoke a licence.”
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police were not aware that there were betting houses operating in violation of lockdown restrictions but would investigate.
Efforts to get a comment from Mr. Richard Moore, who runs MWOS, were unsuccessful as his cellphone number was constantly engaged. The Herald