17 June 2012

Zimbabwe: Hard-Up Currency Dealers Turn to Betting

Hard — PRESSED foreign currency dealers, popularly known as money-changers, have found a new lease of life in the form of betting. Since the country legalised the use of foreign currency in 2009, business has never been the same for the once flamboyant group, who would not hesitate to spend money.

But the current economic challenges, which are compounded by a liquidity crunch, have forced most of them to resort to betting houses in Harare and Chitungwiza in the hope of making a fortune overnight.

Among the most visited betting houses are AfricaBet, Africa Lotto and the State Lotteries.

Foreign currency dealers who spoke to Standard Community last week at Chitungwiza AfricaBet said they had been forced into betting because they were failing to make a decent living through changing money on the streets as they used to do.

Foreign currency dealers offer higher exchange rates than commercial banks to attract holders of hard currency to street corners.

"No money is circulating these days," said one foreign currency dealer, who identified himself only as King. "The situation is tough for most of us because people are holding on to their money."

King, who has turned to betting added: "We used to make a lot of money a few years back but now it has changed drastically so we come here to bet with the hope that we can be lucky one day."

Jethro, another foreign currency dealer, said changing money was no longer viable.

Like King, Jethro has also resorted to betting.

"We used to be flashy but it's now a thing of the past," said Jethro.

Foreign currency dealers were well-known for being flamboyant and extravagant at the height of the economic downturn as they benefited from hyper-inflation during the time. They were conspicuous by their larger-than-life lifestyles moving around with hordes of the Zimdollar and foreign currency.

They were also noticeable because they used to drive the latest flashy cars and spent most of their time with beautiful women at expensive food outlets and hotels for breakfast and lunch, where they squandered their money without hesitation.

An employee at Betting World in Harare, who refused to be named for professional reasons, said they were getting brisk business from money changers.

"This place is always full to the brink at dusk with people, most of them money changers," said the employee.

For years, betting had been regarded as a "game" for mostly pensioners.

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