The going into effect of the law that taxes betting revenues at the rate of 35 per cent is a commendable step towards reining in the betting companies, but it does not address the mechanisms through which the populace is becoming ensnared to become gamblers.
These mechanisms revolve around the marketing and promotion of betting as a productive enterprise. We are daily inundated with advertisements on our TVs that promise us millions. We are seduced to sign up with one betting house or other as a sure bet to the rich kingdom. Our TVs and radios have glamourised gambling.
The advertisements employ a number of strategies, ranging from the clownish, to the serene, many visual and audio, some merely audio. All in all, the gambling adverts appeal to our sense of desire to make a lot of money and promise that this is attainable instantly.
Examples of those who have made winnings are provided to drive the point home that we too can join the elite club of millionaires. The advertisements appeal to a wide audience by showing ordinary people – for example folk selling sugarcane – exuberant after winning bets.
Through this device, betting companies seek to ensnare as many people as possible to become gamblers by showing that ordinary people are winning.
These strategies were for many years employed by tobacco companies which lured us with promises of a high class life with beautiful women and top of the range cars.
Advertisers do not use the above techniques innocently: they know they will ensnare their victims. French philosopher Michel Foucalt warns us that power is most potent when it is internalised.
We have now internalised the notion that we can make millions instantly with little effort and are acting on this belief.
What they do not tell us is that once snared, we stay snared. Put simply, gambling is addictive.
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Many will abandon what they see as the hard slog towards wealth creation for the quicker and easier one of placing a bet with a few shillings via Mpesa and boom! The millions arrive in the account.
Gambling has been made easy with the arrival of internet platforms and internet connectivity and especially smartphones. Throw in the hourly blasts on our TVs, then we can understand why Kenya is ranked third to Nigeria and South Africa in terms of gambling market size.
The advertisements do not tell us how many people betted and never won anything. They do not tell us the number of people who have lost all their life savings while seeking these quick millions.
Further, they do not tell us how many people have abandoned their honest pursuits in search of easy riches, and ended up worse for it. A common adage in gambling is that the house always wins.
This fact is never captured in the advertisements. I know of a case where a guy lost Sh90,000, being the entire family savings, on a bet. The wife did not know till much later.
Rein in practice
There has come time to control the naked ensnaring of Kenyans into gambling. In doing so, we can draw lessons from mechanisms to control tobacco companies’ glamourizing of smoking.
Spurred by concerns about the addictive nature of tobacco and its health effects, the Kenyan Government passed the Tobacco Control Act 2007.
This Act prohibits most forms of advertising and promotion of tobacco products. Formerly glitzy packaging of tobacco packages has been mostly replaced by health warnings in English and Kiswahili of the effects of tobacco.
Beyond the controls on promotion of tobacco promotion, the Act requires the State to educate the public on the “the health consequences, addictive nature and mortal threat posed by tobacco consumption…”
So just like what happened regarding tobacco, it is time promotion of gambling was severally curtailed and betting companies required to provide a caveat to their advertisements, namely, that gambling is addictive; and that you could lose your shirt while gambling.
Further, the State should put in place mechanisms, including changes to the curriculum, to comprehensively educate the public about the dangers posed by gambling and the virtues of disciplined work.
Gambling companies can choose to act voluntarily. But they can also be forced by legislation. Just like in the case of tobacco, these companies will fight back.
They will for example blackmail the public by withholding sponsorships of sports events. But the public good must prevail.
Government attempts to regulate this industry through high taxation are commendable, but these can only go so far. It is time to extend these efforts to regulating the kind of mechanisms through which we become ensnared to become gamblers.
Dr Nyamori is Associate Professor of Accounting, Abu Dhabi [email protected]