Pretoria's ban raises stakes for Sun City: John Carlin in Johannesburg on a gambling bill that has drawn accusations of hypocrisy

ONCE you've negotiated three sets of iron gates at King's Casino, on Johannesburg's Louis Botha Avenue, the gaming room itself has a homespun feel to it. The fish fingers and the cheese and tomato sandwiches are free, and a blonde waitress in skin-tight jeans minces around the tables asking, 'Anybody here for spaghetti?'

Mercifully, the Israeli, the Latvian and the two Italians in the blackjack huddle I was observing did not express a great deal of interest in spaghetti, mesmerised as they were by the black female croupier's dexterity with the cards, and the insouciant nimbleness with which she hoovered up their 20 rand chips ( pounds 4).

A bill the South African government plans to table in parliament this week threatens to put the waitress, the croupier and the man who makes the spaghetti out on the street - along with 15,000 others employed in South Africa's burgeoning gambling industry.

Political killings may be the order of the day, constitutional negotiations may be in peril and the economy may be sliding way beyond John Major's worst nightmares, but President F W de Klerk has deemed the time has come to put his foot down and appease the moral majority. All gambling on South African soil, he has decreed, is to be outlawed.

Uproar has been the response. A protest march has been held in Cape Town and the media have been inundated with calls and letters from indignant punters. On the talk shows it is the only issue.

In an article in the Star, a national daily, Tony Leon MP, of the liberal Democratic Party, denounced the government's 'double standards and hypocrisy'. 'The Gambling Amendment Bill,' he railed, 'is legislative junk food. It bloats the system, takes time to digest and diverts attention from the main course . . . making progress towards a democratic South Africa.'

The double standards and hypocrisy eating at Mr Leon derive from apartheid's greatest aberration, the system of independent homelands, devised as dumping grounds for blacks not wanted in the big cities. The creation within South African territory of the sovereign states of Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei - all of which entertain diplomatic missions from just one country - gave the entrepreneur Sol Kerzner the smart idea of building a business around the principle of the forbidden fruit.

Black leaders Pretoria appointed to head these statelets did not share their Calvinist masters' scruples about gambling, topless dancers and dirty movies. Mr Kerzner established Sun City in Bophuthatswana, and it spawned 30 Sun Hotel complexes in all four homelands.

It has made Mr Kernzer colossally wealthy - it is reported he will be paying Ronald and Nancy Reagan their usual fees to attend the opening later this year of his latest venture in Bophuthatswana, the Lost City, venue of the Miss World contest in December.

Mr Kerzner is among the most enthusiastic proponents of the anti-gambling bill. Desperate not to lose his billion-rand investment in the homelands, he has been appearing on radio and television fiercely arguing his case, the essence of which is that he is a philanthropist with a job-creation scheme under threat.

Mr Leon sees it differently. 'In effect, it means the monopoly enjoyed in the homelands by Sun International will be shored up by an Act of Parliament.'

Grant Kaplan of the South African Gaming Association explained that the monopoly was broken in July last year, after a court ruled that a local variation of blackjack was not 'a game of chance', but - as betting on the horses is legally defined - 'a game of skill'. Exploiting the loophole, 500 casinos have mushroomed, with a turnover of more than pounds 20m a month.

Mr Kerzner has been the loser. Gamblers in Johannesburg no longer have to drive two hours north to Sun City for their fun. They can drive around the corner to King's, or to Sleepy Hollow, a converted mansion in the Spanish colonial style, in the affluent suburb of Sandton.

The co-managers of Sleepy Hollow, Chris from Ottawa and Kevin from Birmingham, struggle to restrain their loathing for Mr Kerzner and their contempt for the government. 'We're crucifying some of Sun International's establishments,' said Kevin, a former Sun International employee.

If he spoke with relish it was because he was present last year when the police, in the company of two Sun employees, raided the casino he was working in and locked him up for 24 hours, because he did not have a work permit - a detail his former employers had overlooked. The fear now is that he will be locked up for far longer.

'It's ludicrous,' Chris said. 'I mean, they'll put us away for 20 years, but if we go out and murder, if we go out and kill eight blacks on the streets like that guy Barend Strydom, and then say it was political, they'll let us free after a couple of months. Meanwhile, a couple of hours up the road in Sun City, people are playing roulette and everything and it's all perfectly legal.'

A curious twist, Chris and Kevin remarked, is that the furore is bringing the African National Congress support from the most unexpected quarters. The ANC position, founded on non-recognition of homeland sovereignty, is that the proposed legislation is biased, illegitimate and absurd and, at a time of economic hardship, will deprive thousands of jobs.

'Lots of our staff and many of our clients,' Chris said, 'are saying they're going to vote ANC.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas
film
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Content Manager

£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee