A response to problem gambling

Since its establishment, the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF) has acted as a comprehensive industry response to the challenges posed by problem gambling in the country


“SARG operated as a trust in the period before 2009, with the main focus being to implement National Responsible Gambling Programme (NRGP), which was launched as a comprehensive industry response to the challenges posed by problem gambling in a developing nation such as South Africa, after the legalisation of gambling in mid-1996,” explains Sibongile Simelane-Quntana, the Executive Director.

“At its inception, it took the form of a national programme with a set of activities that integrated treatment and counselling, public awareness, education, training and research; and it remains globally recognised as the first national initiative to integrate these various components coherently, with the understanding that it is maximally cost effective to have a single, national programme covering all forms of gambling,” she adds.

The mission and vision

Simelane-Quntana says the foundation’s vision is to create a responsible gambling environment through accessible programmes that manage and minimise the potentially harmful effects of gambling in the country.

Their mission is to grow awareness of responsible gambling and to ensure that the potential negative and harmful effects of gambling are managed and minimised, through an integrated and well-managed programme of:

  • Research, advocacy and stakeholder mobilisation;
  • Comprehensive treatment and counselling; and
  • Problem gambling prevention.
  • Responsible gambling defined

Simelane-Quntana explains that responsible gambling is when the gambling activity is a harmless and recreational, which does not take more time or money on gambling than one can comfortably afford.

“A responsible gambler is one who typically determines beforehand what they consider to be acceptable losses. By and large, their gambling activities cause little harm to themselves or their loved ones and their behaviour is associated with minimal guilt.

“They simply require information and education on gambling behaviour to enable them to make sensible decisions and remain harm free,” she elaborates.

Problem gambling can have severe consequences and not only does it have a negative effect on the gambler, but also on the family, significant others and on the workplace.

“These are some of the effects of problem gambling on a punter: depression, suicidal thoughts, anger and anxiety, financial and emotional depletion, and so forth,” she explains.

The National Responsible Gambling Programme

The SARGF’s flagship programme, NRGP, which was launched in June 2000, has successfully treated 18 500 patients to date.

The NRGP has various programmes—The Support and Mentoring Programme/Industry Support Programme, Prevention Programmes and Treatment Programmes—each with their own set of objectives and target audiences.

The Support and Mentoring Programme, also known as the Industry Support Programme, is offered to industry employees, mainly the operators. It comprises of individuals and group sessions facilitated by the foundation’s social worker. This programme differs from the training programme in that it focuses on the emotional skills and capacity of employees. It is aimed at creating awareness of problem gambling in the workplace. This programme helps employees to be aware of the triggers of gambling. By placing emphasis on personal choice, employees are capacitated to better understand their role within the workplace including stress triggers. The sessions are facilitated on an open basis in groups. The foundation also has a dedicated crises line of support to call in case of an emergency

Prevention Programmes comprise of the national schools’ programme, public awareness campaigns, public sector workshops, private sector employee wellness programmes and the senior older age citizens’ workshops, which are all dedicated to managing and minimising the potentially harmful effects of problem gambling. These programmes also educate the public about the dangers and consequences of illegal gambling, how to stay in control and gamble within your means. The foundation works closely with the National Gambling Board, the Provincial Gambling Board’s gambling industry operators as well as other key sector stakeholders to roll out the prevention programme.

Treatment Programmes—all the foundation’s Treatment and Counselling Programmes are free of charge and available 24 hours a day. These services include an outpatient and inpatient treatment programme as well as the provision of telephone counselling by trained and qualified professionals. The outpatient programme comprises of face-to-face counselling and is aligned with the practices regulated by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and other recognised international best practices. Patients in this programme undergo a minimum of eight to 10 face-to-face counselling sessions, depending on the recovery and progress of the individual. The inpatient treatment targets individuals who are suffering from severe or chronic problem gambling disorders. Patients admitted to this programme are provided with 28 sessions within a hospital or clinic environment. Highly qualified psychologists, psychiatrists and clinicians are dedicated to each individual case to ensure the patients are constantly evaluated and monitored.

The leader at the helm

Sibongile Simelane-Quntana’s experience and background lie in institutional development and administration. She holds a postgraduate degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in Public Administration and Management and, prior to joining SARGF, she worked in the public sector in various management positions.

“I joined the SARGF because I wanted to make a difference and educate people about problem gambling. In addition, like most South Africans, my family is affected by an addicted person and this has been going on for years now since I was in high school,” she explains.

Simelane-Quntana’s role is to ensure that SARGF delivers on its mandate to minimise the potentially harmful effects of problem gambling.

“Having worked in the public sector in various management positions equipped with experience on how to run an institution—this, coupled with my educational qualifications, has allowed me to provide the necessary leadership in terms of reconfiguring SARGF’s programmes,” she says.

Simelane-Quntana has enjoyed a long, prosperous career, which has been punctuated by numerous professional triumphs as well as some challenges along the way.

She describes the biggest achievement in her career thus far as the National Responsible Gambling Month, which she conceptualised in 2016 and each year, it is growing.

In terms of the biggest challenge, she says, “My biggest challenge, which I am overcoming every day, is managing people and dealing with people dynamics daily. Managing people in my view, it’s like playing the game of chess. It is very difficult to anticipate the person’s next move and you are always kept on your toes in terms of your reaction to their next move.

“As a leader, your next move should not be about checkmate but about ensuring that when checkmate time comes, the other person is aware of how it got to that end.

“I have a personal motto that my next move has the potential to either make or break any situation. I always try to achieve the former by setting ground rules for engagement,” she explains.

A remarkable leader, Simelane-Quntana’s leadership style is best described as being a combination, as she does not believe that the rigidity of subscribing to one specific style will allow you to achieve what you’ve set out to achieve.

“Therefore, I am very flexible in my leadership, I allow myself to be a strategic and transformational leader most times. Leadership comes naturally, you need to have a passion to work with people and not be scared to make the difficult decisions as and when it is required of you,” she concludes. 

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