• June 18, 2024
  • Last Update June 18, 2024 3:24 PM
  • Nairobi

Gambling chains, who will save our Youth?

Gambling chains, who will save our Youth?

Nairobi, 

Sunday, 18 May, 2024 

McCreadie Andias 

Gideon Ochieng, a 28-years-old youth lives in a small village, Kabiria, Located in Dagoretti South Nairobi, where majority of the population is that of youth and middle – aged living from hands to mouth.

He lives alone since his wife and two children went back upcountry when he lost his job as an electrician and with bitting responsibilities as the head of the family could not sustain his small family to live with him anymore, Upcountry, in Kisumu was much suitable for his family since life is relatively cheaper.

Ochieng dwells on side hustles to try put food on the table mostly living on construction jobs with is a major employer for many in the area, but sometimes jobs as cheaply paying as construction are elusive yet bills have to be paid and mouths fed, so there has to be alternative means to gain money for Ochieng and many other youths like him. 

Online gambling has been a rising darling for many youths especially in informal settlements exacerbated by the proliferation of online betting platforms and the accessibility of gambling services. It also doesn’t require any formal requirements or manual labor. A little stake of money and some small intelligence on sports is all you need to earn cheap money and maybe some little lucky charm.

Betting is a $2bn industry in Kenya, according to government estimates, with over 25 companies vying for a share of the market.

Until very recently, the most dominant company was SportPesa, which commanded roughly 40 percent of market share until September 2020, when it closed its operations in Kenya over a tax standoff with government authorities but came back although met a market dominated by new sites like Betika which offered customers cheap betting stakes as little as 10 shillings. 

Ochieng is one of the many youths invested in online gambling which he agrees is not much expensive as said and perhaps the easiest way to find a livelihood in such an elusive job market.

“I only need less or more than 50 shillings to place a bet and if luck is on my side i won’t have to worry about paying my rent or shopping.” He said

But is it that cheap? especially when you keep losing?

“Sometimes it’s stressful since you might not win anything even for a week and if you calculate the total money you have staked for the whole week it could be relatively alot more that could have cooled down some of my stressing bills but at the moment when im placing a bet, the money isn’t a thing of much considering due to the high hopes of winning” He says.

Millions of youths have bought the idea that online gambling is the only way to go and despite the fact that some have hugely benefited from the venture, it has also disproportionately affected their lives some ending up into depression or even suicide.

“yes it might be addictive since the obsession to win is often uncontrolled especially when you see someone else land a big pay day, it motivates you to try even more.” Ochieng admits.

Gordon Ogada and Cosmos Korir remains the highest football jackpot winners in Kenya after their KES 230,742,881 and  KES 208,733,619 victories on SportPesa respectively and more youths believe that they can turn their lives around like the two did. 

But the truth is that the practice has now become a norm rather than an exception and has taken hold of the young people who can easily access betting sites online, privately from the comfort of their homes even as the gambling multi-million-dollar business continues to churn out addicts and produce more losers than winners, thereby leaving the desperate youths more frustrated.

it’s a pursuit where even one bet can hook someone and potentially send them spiralling down a path of financial destruction.

“Sometimes i would sacrifice the little i have for food or rent and risk it on a stake hoping to multiply my benefits but in most cases it all goes down the drain leaving me with more trouble than before, I would want to quit but the money i have spent on it has to reciprocate one day. ” Gideon says. 

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), the negative consequences of an individual’s gambling habits affect themselves and those around them and lead to issues such as severe debts and loss of property, strained relationships, health problems for both the gambler and family by promoting stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation.

With mobile-savvy youths proving especially vulnerable to online sports betting, the pressure is on governments to crack down on the companies profiting from it. 

The tug-of-war between tax authorities and betting companies has escalated since 2020, when the government imposed a hefty 35 percent tax on gaming revenue – the highest in the region- on top of a 30 percent corporate tax and a legal mandate to dedicate 25 percent of betting sales to social causes.

After betting companies threatened to withdraw from the country, the government lowered the gaming tax to 15 percent, only to hike it again in 2021 to 20 percent.

“These companies must show evidence of tax payment,” then Kenya’s Ministry of the Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi told reporters in a statement. “It may be a bit tough for some of them, but I promise you that they shall be out of this business soon.”

Jurisdiction for regulating Kenya’s gambling industry technically falls under the Kenyan Betting Control and Licensing Board. But the law under which it operates was drafted more than 50 years ago – long before mobile phones and online betting were ubiquitous.

“The local governments are dealing with high cases of suicide as a result of this desperation … we must say no,” said Matiangi. “What kind of country are we building, are we telling our children to do nothing with their lives except bet and wait on a big win to become an overnight millionaire?”Matiangi argued in a past statement. 

The Betting Control and Licensing Board has taken some measures, such as outlawing outdoor and social media advertising on sports betting, though billboards around Nairobi bear testament to lax enforcement. The board has also banned television advertisements for sports betting firms between the hours of 6am and 10pm (generally thought to be the time children are active) – as well as endorsements by celebrity sports figures like Kenya’s only UEFA Champions League winner, McDonald Mariga, who was formerly a spokesperson for a betting firm in Kenya.

“These celebrities are normalising gambling,” said a sports commentator. “People see them as role models so they start attributing the celebrity’s achievements to sports betting and imagine that if they bet they’ll also become successful.” He added. 

One country in the region has taken its crackdown much further. Uganda started phasing out all sports betting, decreeing that existing licences would not be renewed and no new ones would be issued. President Yoweri Museveni said gambling was diverting youth’s attention from honest, hard work. 

Back in Kenya, efforts have also been taken against the industry by launching the Gaming Awareness Society of Kenya, a volunteer campaign that advocates for proper regulation around sports gambling and offers support to those wrestling with gambling addiction.

Despite the potential costs to those who practice it, online gambling remains legal in Kenya, and 28-year old Gideon Ochieng is still punting, even though he knows the odds are against him.”You get into a dangerous cycle chasing the high of your first win,” he said. “But the house will always win.”Alot is still on demand to tame gambling addiction. 

The government has made a significant move to address the gambling situation in the country in both a profitable and protective approach. 

On Thursday this week, the National Senate failed to pass the Gambling Control Bill 2023 which was postponed for the second time this week as legislators clashed with different stances on how gambling should be approached in the country. 

The Bill was referred to the Senate for consideration after it was passed by the National Assembly on December 6, 2023.

The Bill seeks to among other things provide betting regulations for Casinos and other forms of Gambling and  establish a Gambling Regulatory Authority including imposition of tax on betting and other forms of gambling.

One contentious clause in the Bill is that of reduction of betting stake from the minimum Ksh.20 placement to Ksh.1.

“We want anyone to enjoy the gaming, even those with little amounts like a shilling,” Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna said.

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruyiot however argued , “You cannot make gambling accessible to kids and school-going children who can get one shilling easily. I oppose the removal of the Ksh.20 placement limit.” He stated. 

On a solution based approach, the Proposal to remove the Ksh. 20 placement limit should be viewed as a promoter for gambling addiction since lesser limit is more accessible to children and youths which escalates the gambling addiction,the limit should perhaps be increased to a much higher level. 

Other Key elements contained in the Gambling Control Bill 2023 include license Issuance from one year to 36 months, banning registered sports players from gambling, banning of under18-year-olds from gambling, display of proof of age by a gambler, registration guidelines provided by the Gaming Authority and minimum penalty of Ksh.5 million for gambling companies fair to say that these are actually good recommendations that will protect children and youth from gambling addiction while preventing gambling companies from abusing and manipulating the users.

It is easy to say that the Gambling Control Bill 2023 has many provisions that will challenge the gambling problem in the country, but some of the recommendations will actually exacerbate the actual problem, the Bill should be reviewed and amended in an approach that not only promotes business but also protects children and youths from abuse and addiction. 

What other effective solutions are available? 

Despite Licensing and age restrictions, A Lot of children under the age of 18 years continue to be involved in gambling schemes some are able to access their parents devices and register into gambling sites using their parents or guardians identity cards. The BCLB must issue licensing and registration procedures by enforcing ID verification systems on all gambling platforms and gambling sites. 

Educational programs should be implemented in schools to raise awareness about the risks associated with gambling. This can include integrating lessons about gambling addiction into the curriculum.

Similarly, running national awareness campaigns through various media channels, such as radio, TV, and social media, to inform the public about the dangers of gambling addiction and how to seek help.Support Services,here the government should also establish hotlines and support services that provide counseling and assistance to individuals struggling with gambling addiction. For example, creating a 24/7 helpline and providing online chat support for affected youths.

Gambling has been closely compared to drug addiction since many youths have been unable to salvage themselves after venturing into the activity, Setting up specialized rehabilitation centers for gambling addicts which offer treatment programs tailored to the needs of young people will support gambling addicts to tame the addiction. 

Technology-Based Solutions like Implementing self-exclusion programs allows individuals to voluntarily ban themselves from accessing gambling services. Online platforms can integrate these features to help users control their gambling behavior.

Gambling companies should also be compelled to offer betting limits, both in terms of time and money spent in the sites, to prevent excessive gambling. This can include daily, weekly, or monthly caps on betting amounts.

In order to evaluate and monitor the gambling ecosystem, The government should Conduct regular studies and surveys to monitor gambling trends among youths and identify at-risk groups. This data can help in tailoring interventions and policies more effectively. Furthermore, the government should Partner with universities and research institutions to study the impact of gambling on youths and develop evidence-based policies with a lot of students in universities being the biggest addicts of sports gambling over desperation to decolonize poverty and build fancy lifestyles. 

As a country, we must also have to borrow external intelligence and policies from developed countries that will help us better understand the dynamics of online gambling and how to effectively tame addiction for example ;

The UK, one of the world’s most sporting countries, has a well-established regulatory framework for gambling, overseen by the Gambling Commission. The country has introduced measures such as mandatory age verification, self-exclusion schemes (GAMESTOP), and advertising restrictions. The “BeGambleAware” campaign provides extensive resources and support for individuals with gambling problems.

Meanwhile, Australia has implemented various harm minimization measures, including mandatory pre-commitment systems for slot machines and limits on cash withdrawals in gambling venues. Public awareness campaigns like “Gamble Responsibly” aim to educate the public about the risks of gambling.

Sweden’s gambling regulator, Spelinspektionen, enforces strict licensing conditions and promotes responsible gambling. The country has a national self-exclusion register called “Spelpaus,” which allows individuals to block themselves from all licensed gambling websites and venues.

By adopting similar measures and tailoring them to the local context, the Kenyan government can effectively address and mitigate the issue of gambling addiction among youths.

Far more sustainable, Taming gambling addiction might not be a Walk in the park and hence a long term solution will provide a suitable way to solve the problem. President William Ruto should re-introduce youths informal employment programmes like the ‘Kazi mtaani’ or even more government employment projects targeting youths to help reduce the over reliance on gambling as a source of livelihood and keep them busy in more productive work that would have otherwise have been spent on gambling otherwise gambling will be a problem we will keep staring at moving forward if better long term approaches are not adopted.

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