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Georgia bets big on gambling industry, now one in six gamble their livelihoods and lives away

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“It’s difficult for me and my children to watch a person who doesn’t exist anymore,” says 50-year-old Lela, mother of two and grandmother of three, whose husband gambled away their property and left them drowning in debt.

“He is aggressive and inadequate. He has lost his grip on reality and [lost] his kids that he used to love. It’s very difficult for me to talk about it,” Lela explains, fighting back tears. “Basically, our family doesn’t exist any more and that is very painful.”

“You don’t communicate with anyone, you are isolated from everything, from the outside world and you don’t think about anything but the game. Play, eat and sleep,” says Hristo, a middle-aged man who has spent the best part of his life gambling.

According to the hairdresser, who is still fighting severe gambling addiction, the agony suffered by his need to play and fend for his family at the same time has made his life a living nightmare.

“I wanted to commit suicide many times,” Hristo admits as he explains that he had ‘the eyes of a madman.’

He confesses that the ultimate ‘fight’ with his family came when he gambled away the money needed to treat his sick child.

In Georgia, a country of around 3.7 million people, some 15-20 percent of the population are thought to be addicted to gambling.

That’s according to an unofficial poll that was conducted by a working group consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Finance and NGOs in 2018.

Lasha Giorgadze, Head of the ‘Centre for Civil Involvement’ NGO, says: ”700,000 people lose not only their things but others too – like their families and friends.”

According to Andrea Gvichiani, an expert in gambling addiction, the gambling business’s turnover in Georgia was 5.6 billion GEL ($2.1 billion/ € 1.8 billion) in 2017 – which is a staggering 40-fold increase on 2010.

The figure has been confirmed by the ‘Geostat’ bank of national statistics which also indicated that in 2017, the food market industry amounted to 1.5 billion GEL ($564,000/€ 493,000) meaning that Georgians spent more money gambling than buying food that year.

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