In Small Ghana Villages Invaded by Chinese Slot Machines, Locals Learn to Love Gambling a Bit Too Much

Posted on: August 8, 2017, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: August 8, 2017, 05:40h.

The population of Ghana has seen economic benefits from its nearly 60-year relationship with China, but has also recently had to confront the reality that modernization and financial influx can bring. Chinese slot machines have been invading small villages in the West African coastal country, installed in not much more than shacks by Chinese entrepreneurs.

Ghana slot machines Chinese entrepreneurs
Slot machines brought to small villages in Ghana by Chinese entrepreneurs are concerning leaders who believe they will lead to addiction and increased crime. (Image: Noah Fowler/LA Times)

Like gamblers everywhere, people in Ghana are discovering the hypnotic lure these machines can offer, usually more often than they do winning amounts of cash. The gadgets are fascinating the Ghanaian locals, many of whom live in poverty and struggle to find access to clean drinking water.

Esther Armah, a radio host and lecturer at Webster University in the capital city of Accra, told the Los Angeles Times that the country’s government is avoiding the issue.

“For me, what China is doing here is economic colonialism,” Armah said. “Part of Ghana’s challenge is creating an economy that serves Ghanaians first and foremost. We don’t have that. We have an economy that first and foremost serves foreigners.”

The government’s reluctance could be a fear of upsetting China, a country that is a sizable importer of its gold, diamonds, oil, and other goods. Ghana is Africa’s second-largest gold and cocoa producer, and China is a major customer. In return, China has paid for critical infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, dams, and other public service projects.

Trade Imbalance

Commerce between the two countries has skyrocketed over the past few two decades. The figure was less than $100 million in 2000. Sixteen years, it had hit $6.6 billion. But critics say Chinese entrepreneurs are exploiting the situation and flooding the market with cheap, low-quality goods that local sellers can’t compete with.

The slot machines have added another dimension to the issue, one that village leaders believe could become catastrophic. Small Ghanese towns, some with populations of less than 1,000, have started seeing the one-armed bandits show up in roadside shacks and almost everyone, including children, have been mesmerized.

Ubor Dawuni Wumbe, chief of a Ghanese village with fewer than 2,500 residents, told the L.A. Times that he’s worried about an increase in crimes like prostitution and robbery. In his jurisdiction, he counted 30 machines placed in cafes and shops. The coin slot accepted minimum bets of 5 to 10 cents, and Wumbe says that what he saw shocked him.

“You’d go there and it was packed. People weren’t going to their farms anymore. [They] began to think that this was a way of earning income. They’d play all day, hoping they would win. But you never could beat the machine,” he told the Times.

Whose Machines Are They, Anyway?

Trying to figure out who owns the machines or if they have permission to be set up has been difficult. Permits are supposed to be acquired, but those installing the machines are taking advantage of lax regulations and minimal enforcement.

One company was registered to a post office box in Accra. Wumbe said he saw a Chinese man get out of a car and collect money from them, handing the owner of the establishment cash for housing them.

“This was virgin territory where they could ply on ignorance, or human emotion, to get rich quick,” Wumbe noted sadly.