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Gambling on the box

March 23, 2009


There is a worrying trend spreading virus-like on Spanish television. Having no Sky or similar facility, I don’t know if the trend is spreading abroad, or even if it has come to this country from elsewhere.

As though there weren’t enough problem gambling in Spain, now we have every television channel and lots of radio stations offering quick riches at all times of the day and night – there are even whole programmes dedicated to it, mostly in the small hours but not all. Send a text message to such-and-such a number and you can win anything from €1000 to €500,000 – or x amount per month for the rest of your life, or for a year. Easy, isn’t it?

The catch words are ‘you can win’. No guarantee that you will. All you’re doing is taking part in a lottery. Each message will cost you well over €1, depending, I suppose, on the prize money.

That is as much gambling as poker, El Gordo or a slot machine. Unlike these, though, there is no legislation in Spain to control it. According to El País, the TV stations’ advertising income has plummeted and they are taking advantage of a legal vacuum.

The organization that is supposed to control gambling in Spain is the Loterías y Apuestas del Estado (LAE) but it classifies text message gaming as a competition and thus allows it without regulation.

There is a serious gambling addiction problem in Spain – not surprising when every bar has at least one slot machine and there are so many ‘official’ ways to do gamble: lottery, pools, specials, etc. And then there is online gambling, which, according to JARCA, a self-help problem gamblers organization very active in the Campo de Gibraltar, is creating more addicts than ever. Add these to the desperation of unemployment and you have a bomb. And we won’t even go into Bwin sponsoring Real Madrid on their shirts.

Gibraltar, too, is a major international online gambling centre, confirmed by a quick look through Google, where you will find all sorts of juicy get rich quick schemes. Most of them, though, have a link to some sort of self help organization such as Gamblers Anonymous, that they refer to in a miniscule section variously titled as ‘Social Responsibility’.

Compulsive gambling is an illness and recognized as such by the World Health Organization. It is the same as, say, alcoholism or drug addiction and has much the same results.

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009


Terrorists are back in the headlines. We’ve just heard of two attacks by the ‘Real’ IRA in Northern Ireland. On the inner pages of a paper, we read about Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Israel, etc. etc. We even read about ‘non-terrorist’ attacks in the US and in Germany, which by virtue of the madness of their perpetrators, create terror nevertheless.

But today, March 11, marks the fifth year since the largest terrorist attack ever in Europe (unless you count wars, which are another form of terror): the attack by Islamic terrorists on commuter trains in Madrid. One hundred and ninety-two people were killed, hundreds were injured and millions still remember it.

Today, March 11, should have been a day of remembrance, which for the more direct victims it surely is. But the politicians chose otherwise. At ceremonies held at various points along the route the trains took that fateful day, politicians laid flowers, made speeches and appeared in photos that will make the front pages. The trouble is that the PSOE chose not to appear at the official ones in protest against a decision by the PP (in government in Madrid) to conclude an investigation into spying on itself. What the hell has one thing to do with the other?

Today, March 11, at a time when unity in remembrance and as tribute to the victims should be the objective, politicians showed yet again that their only aim is self-interest. Even the various Victims of Terrorism groups in Spain, with their members going back into history but also including the more recent, are divided along political lines, choosing to attend separate ceremonies.

Shame on them.

(C) Alexander Bewick 2009


The recent arrest of the Mayor of Alcaucín, Málaga, on corruption charges that include allowing building on terreno rústico, points the spotlight at a problem that is and has been recurrent certainly on the coasts if not all over Spain for a number of greedy years. Most of the buyers of holiday or retirement homes in these places are expats looking for a place in the sun. By expats I mean of any nationality, though in the most recent case in Alcaucín, they were mostly British.

The Spanish media is full of headlines on the subject. In Sunday’s edition of El País, an in depth analysis of this case had a separate item titled: Los residentes extranjeros, principales compradores (Foreign residents, the main buyers) in which the first paragraph reads: “They came to Spain for the sunshine and a garden they couldn’t afford in their home country. Their ignorance of the law and a lack of scruples on the part of builders, intermediaries and public officials did the rest.”

The article quotes a British buyer, “To us, rústico means rustic, of the countryside, not a synonym for land that can’t be built on.” And therein lies the crux.

The Junta de Andalucía and eight municipalities in the Almanzora area of Málaga, which contains Alcaucín, have counted over 3,000 homes built on terreno rústico an official designation that means You Can’t Build on It / Green Belt / No, No, No – or any other such approximation. But then, if your builder or developer knows his way around your local Town Hall, he may well have built on what is ‘about to become’ urbanizable land. How does he know that?

Many if not most of the smaller municipalities in Andalucía and other ‘sunny’ places, are operating under a Plan General de Ordenación Urbana (PGOU in it Spanish acronym, roughly translatable to General Urban Ordination Plan – or Town Planning Regulations) that dates back to 1987 or thereabouts. Things have changed since then, of course, particularly during the Aznar years in government -but not always- when developers appeared to be able to do whatever they liked with few consequences that couldn’t be settled with a little finesse. The result is plain to anyone who has ever seen those vast developments on what would otherwise be open countryside. The photo that illustrates this article is a prime example in Seseña, Toledo, where there isn’t even a coastline and the massive development has naturally run into all kinds of trouble in the present economic climate. We don’t know how many expats might have bought there, but that, too, was built on a PGOU that is ‘in the process of change’, a change that has been conveniently a-changing since the 1980s but that allows for hefty ‘commissions’ to be had from those same developers and builders, many of whom are now in jail, or should be.

One question arises about these purchases, one that has arisen all too often over the years: When was the last time you bought a property in Britain (or anywhere else in the northern part of the EU, for that matter) without a proper survey being done beforehand? It is true, though, that a survey in Spain can be extremely dicey: Is the surveyor being paid by the developer? Are the proper documents easily available from the Town Hall? Can you trust the surveyor, and if you do, can you understand what he says? And if you’re working through an estate agent, how much do you know about him or her?

(c) Alexander Bewick 2009