Tough Times Inspire Gambling in Serbia

by Savitha C Muppala on  April 17, 2010 at 11:14 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Hard times seem to have stoked gambling in Serbia.

It's a scene that is getting more familiar in Serbia, where the pain of 17 percent unemployment, an average monthly wage of 400 euros (550 dollars) and a weakening dinar currency has prompted an upsurge in gambling.
 Tough Times Inspire Gambling in Serbia
Tough Times Inspire Gambling in Serbia

Thanks to relaxed legislation, betting shops -- "kladionica" in the Serb language -- have sprouted up all over the Balkan nation, enabling punters to put money on anything from football matches to the Eurovision song contest.

Some estimates reckon that 3.5 million Serbs gamble at least occasionally -- more than half the total population -- often in hopes of supplementing their meagre household incomes.

"If I'm lucky, sometimes I get even 20,000 dinars (around 200 euros, 270 dollars) every month," unemployed accountant Milenko Pajovic, 32, told AFP at a neighbourhood betting parlour in Belgrade.

Pajovic has been out of a steady job for several years, and took to gambling when his wife's salary failed to cover the family's rent and the growing needs of their two school-aged children.

"I like football, I know a lot about the international leagues, so I thought I could use all this useless knowledge and support from Lady Luck to try to make some money out of it," he said.

He has promised his wife that he will be careful and never stake more than his previous week's earnings from odd jobs.

"And I have managed so far," he said. "I must admit, it has not been easy, but I don't see myself as a gambler -- this is my part-time job."

But the cautious accountant is a rare example of restraint.

"About 700,000 people are at risk of becoming excessive gamblers" in Serbia, said psychologist Jelena Manojlovic, a co-founder of SOS Center, a voluntary help centre for gambling addicts.

For many caught in financial hard times, she said, there is a sense that gambling can solve their money troubles, "unaware that such behaviour carries a risk of becoming a pathologic gambler".

In the centre's first week of operations, more than 200 people called for advice -- not only gamblers, but also relatives and friends.

Gambling addicts are offered individual or group therapy which can last up to one year.

Former gambler Dejan Stankovic, another co-founder of the SOS Center, said the advent of gambling online or via mobile text messages, sometimes on the outcome of television game shows, "present even higher risks" as punters no longer need to leave their homes.

Uncontrolled gambling led Borko, 54, who declined to give his full name, to the brink of bankruptcy as he had to sell his family's apartment to pay off thousands of euros in debts.

Having lost his job in a formerly state-owned company, he has trouble finding employment.

"Nobody wants a middle-aged civil servant, so I turned to the lottery first, then betting," Borko recalled. "It was less then a year before I was up to my ears in debt."

He tried to borrow from friends, but ended up going to loansharks.

"In the end, I had to move to a one-room studio and use the money from selling my bigger flat to pay off debts," recalled Borko.

He was alone in an empty flat when he decided two years ago to turn to the SOS Center. He has been "clean", as he put it, for six months.

Stankovic lamented the failure of the Serbian government -- which rakes in 285 million euros in taxes and profits from gambling and national lottery -- to do anything to counter the spread of gambling.

"In other European countries, between five and 30 percent of lottery or gambling profits are set aside for prevention," he said. "Here, nothing."

His group is proposing that its contact details be screened in casinos, betting halls and during televised lotteries.

Source: AFP

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