Betting Shops Are Thriving In Venezuela As Hyperinflation Roils The Economy Getting by in Venezuela gets harder by the day with deep shortages of food and medicine and a currency that's just about worthless. Perhaps it's no surprise that betting shops are thriving.
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Betting Shops Are Thriving In Venezuela As Hyperinflation Roils The Economy

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Betting Shops Are Thriving In Venezuela As Hyperinflation Roils The Economy

Betting Shops Are Thriving In Venezuela As Hyperinflation Roils The Economy

Betting Shops Are Thriving In Venezuela As Hyperinflation Roils The Economy

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Getting by in Venezuela gets harder by the day with deep shortages of food and medicine and a currency that's just about worthless. Perhaps it's no surprise that betting shops are thriving.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Four million people have now fled Venezuela. They departed a country that is rich in oil and other resources which now faces political and economic chaos. This is a story of the millions who remain. How do they get through their days when goods are scarce and their money is almost worthless? NPR's Philip Reeves put the question to people in the capital city, Caracas.

(SOUNDBITE OF BETTING SHOP AMBIANCE)

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Simon Diaz calls himself a pure gambler. He's 22 and says...

SIMON DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: ...He survives by betting on horses.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED HORSE RACE)

UNIDENTIFIED HORSE BETTING ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Right now, Diaz's gaze is fixed on one particular horse on a TV screen above us. It's called Blue Eyes, and it's running in the 4:30 in the nearby city of Valencia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED HORSE RACE)

UNIDENTIFIED HORSE BETTING ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish) Blue Eye.

REEVES: The race begins. Blue Eyes sets off in a cloud of dust, carrying with him the hopes and prayers of Diaz, who's sitting at a table with his friends, clutching pens and racing guides and mobile phones.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED HORSE RACE)

UNIDENTIFIED HORSE BETTING ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: We're in a betting shop on the east side of Caracas, a middle-class area where a few Venezuelans still have enough money to try to turn it into a little more. Diaz says he's here to win money to support his wife and 2-year-old boy. Gambling is also an escape...

DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "To a world apart from the crisis all around," he says. His friend and fellow gambler, Rafael Cesar, chips in.

RAFAEL CESAR: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "Totally," says Cesar. "We don't know what's happening outside. Here, you forget all the craziness." Yet, Venezuela's craziness is taking a toll here, too.

DANIEL SOLORZANO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "The lack of power and services are bad for business," says Daniel Solorzano, who's the betting shop's duty floor manager. Sometimes the electricity cuts out in the middle of a race. A few years ago, this place was packed with people gambling on all sorts of sports, says Solorzano, who's 36. Today, there's a handful. Venezuela's chronic lack of food and medicine and the havoc wrought by hyperinflation are hard to escape.

SOLORZANO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Solorzano says more than half his family's left Venezuela. He's wondering whether to do the same. I ask him if people ever walk in here and wager their entire salaries just to try to feed their families.

SOLORZANO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "Yes, yes," he says, "we see that a lot."

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

REEVES: The 4:30 ends. Blue Eyes wins, to the delight of the gamblers surviving in this murky world apart.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

REEVES: We've come across town into the real world...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yolanda?

REEVES: ...To visit a woman called Yolanda.

YOLANDA: (Speaking Spanish). Yolanda.

REEVES: Yolanda, who's 70, lives in a slum with her daughter and grandson in the poorer west side of Caracas. The alley that leads to her ramshackle home is so narrow, you can touch both sides at the same time. Yolanda's life is all about precise calculations, about how to stretch tiny resources as far as possible. She buys eggs one at a time. I ask if she can afford meat.

YOLANDA: (Laughter). No. (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Yolanda will only give her first name and won't talk politics. She doesn't want to jeopardize a resource that her family depends on...

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPPING ON BOX)

REEVES: ...A food box provided to the poor by the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Distribution is controlled by local officials from the ruling Socialist Party. Rights groups say these officials monitor people and strike them off the list if they criticize the government. Yolanda says her box comes roughly once a month. The last one contained...

YOLANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "Oil, beans, lentils, pasta, milk, rice, sugar and tuna." She teases these out over a couple of weeks then turns to her pension, worth just a few dollars, and the even smaller profit her daughter makes selling vegetables. And she pays no rent and almost no utility charges. That money all goes on food to survive. There's a severe shortage of medicine so Yolanda grows herbs in her yard that she believes help control pain and stomach upsets.

YOLANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED HORSE RACE)

UNIDENTIFIED HORSE BETTING ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Back on the east side of town, in the other world of the betting shop, luck has run out for gamblers Simon Diaz and Rafael Cesar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED HORSE RACE)

UNIDENTIFIED HORSE BETTING ANNOUNCER: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: They've just lost a race. The 5:15 is under way. They're hoping to repair the damage. These two claim they usually come out on top, but there are bad days. Cesar says his family worries and have asked him to stop...

CESAR: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "...Many times."

What do you say when they say that?

CESAR: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: He says he tells them he just trusts in his luck.

Do you ever think your luck's going to run out?

CESAR: No, no, no, no. (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: I guess you have to think like that, right?

CESAR: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Thinking positive is not easy in Venezuela right now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE HIGH-FIVING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: For this race, the 5:15, it seems to work. Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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