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"Chinese Jackpots" in Hohoe: A Case of Milking the Calf, A Community's Worst Nightmare.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

                                                                    By Annette Herrmann-Condobrey
Often when the alarm is sounded globally on children's issues, the focus is on child labor, child slavery, hunger and other very well known problems the subject echoes. But in the Gbi Traditional Area of Ghana's Volta Region, a different kind of problem – GAMBLING – is rising so fast within the child population, Paramount Chief Gabusu VI has raised the red flag.

The problem with child gambling in Hohoe has spread so quickly the casualties cannot be missed. As community members point out, it is not difficult at all in any part of town to find someone who knows a school child, a truant or a dropout who is linked to gambling. Terrible as it sounds, it is a common sight now in Hohoe for school
children to be in drinking bars, spending their lunch monies on jackpots while school is in session, witnesses say.

The practice continues even long after school hours – with slot machines spread across neighborhoods – some so close to home they are literally located between houses.

Multiple sources point to "the Chinese" as the brain behind this new business in town, which profits off some of the most vulnerable members of the community.

Investigation by Antoinette Herrmann-Condobrey indicates that the slot machines are offered to bar operators at a profit sharing deal of 70-30 split. Typically, the owner, who has the machine under lock and key, comes in at an appointed time to take stock. He gives 30 percent of the money realized to the bar or store operator and leaves with 70 percent.

As to how much the municipal assembly makes from its approval of these slot machines and gambling business (for that matter) in the community – it remains a matter of further investigation.

For the unsuspecting customer, the minor in this case, the thought of multiplying his or her little pocket money is so tempting that he or she would stop at nothing to drop that last pesewa in this "money making" machine.

At a recent program held in Hohoe, organized by the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Transitional Affairs, it was stressed that the Gbi Traditional Area wants these slot machines banned in the community, despite their approval by the Hohoe Municipal Assembly.  The detriments, they argued, far outweigh the benefits.

Gambling activities involving children undermine education promotional efforts, while threatening advances already made in this critical area of development – a sad situation for any society; much more, a developing country.

Additionally, there are concerns about the physical, mental and moral wellbeing of minors who play the game. They do so often on empty stomachs, with a high sense of anxiety, and the temptation to steal. These poor choices have been linked to stomach ulcers, waywardness, school dropouts and a rise in crime among minors.

Interestingly, among the entertainment businesses in Hohoe that have said no to these slot machines are some of the most prominent, owned by the well informed. One business owner, whose bar is 'jackpot'-free, happens to come from a legal background. Looking at the subject from a legal perspective, he expressed real concerns regarding the dealings of the business in the community. This prompts the question as to how informed bar and store owners who operate the slot machines generally are.

But the problem with the so-called "Chinese jackpots" is not unique to the Gbi Traditional Area. Further investigation by this journalist reveals that the practice is spreading across various towns and cities in Ghana, with fingers overwhelmingly pointing to "the Chinese" as the mastermind.

Low income neighborhoods spot the highest numbers of the said machines throughout the country. This raises questions similar to those often raised in developed countries about the gambling industry, and especially in the U.S., where casinos are accused of exploiting poor people who are lured into making small but frequent bets that result in big losses for customers and huge profits for rich business owners.

One question keeps emerging: Whose responsibility is it to protect these minors? As one Gbi parent puts it, the kids who gamble in Hohoe are so disrespectful you would rather leave them to their parents to deal with.

Sadly but not unexpected, some grownups including parents of school children are themselves caught in this habit right under the eyes of their kids, leaving a void where role modeling should exist.

But doesn't it take a village to raise a child in Africa of all places? Shouldn't more voices join the paramount chief's to collectively seek a solution to the problem? Should schools play a role? What about government and the various representatives for the area? What are the laws that regulate gambling in Ghana? Who is responsible for ensuring their enforcement?

In the developed world, citizens can oppose and stop gambling businesses such as casinos from establishing in their communities. That is not very much the case in developing countries where all sorts of predatory business deals are hailed as investments.

So, are calls for banning slot machines in the Gbi Traditional Area legitimate? At what point do we draw the line between investment and destruction, business and crime?

Last but not the least, who are these "Chinese" and what kind of being milks a calf?

Annette Herrmann-Condobrey is a U.S. based Ghanaian born journalist, a digital media specialist and communication professional. Herrmann-Condobrey is the administrator of Gbi Viwo Online Community and Editor of the Gbi Voice.



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