Why sports betting is a curse to Kenyan youth

On January 11 this year, a journalist working for a leading media house in Kenya penned an interesting article titled ‘10 rules you need to follow religiously to succeed in sports betting’.

It was a thought-provoking read just as it was an eye-opener into how deeply entrenched sports betting is in Kenya.

My attention was drawn to the sixth rule; “Thou shall not bet to recover losses.” It expounds on the reasoning premised on the hope that proceeds from the next bet after a loss, in case it is a win, will recover money lost and leave more for future betting.

This is the irrational thought process driving most Kenyan youths deeper into the bondage of betting. Studies conducted through Geopoll on the rise of sports betting on the continent show Kenya has the highest number of gambling youth aged between 17-35 years in Sub-Saharan Africa and sports betting has become the most popular form of gambling.

Unfortunately, gambling is legal and is perceived a recreational activity in Kenya. There are no clear laws governing sports betting, leaving betting companies to set their rules and play by them.

Besides the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act of 1966, which made way for gambling as a practice to be introduced, Kenya lacks a solid legal framework to control sports betting. The closest the government has come to regulating the industry was in September last year when a 20 percent tax on bettors’ wins was introduced through the Finance Bill 2018.

The returns

This was brought down from an initial proposed rate of 35 percent of gross gambling revenue by betting companies. The downward review was partly attributed to some leading companies pulling out of their major financing arrangements with teams and federations.

Finally, it was agreed that tax rate be brought down from 35 percent of gross gambling revenue to 15 percent, while imposing a new 20 percent tax on bettors’ winnings.

It is not uncommon to overhear the working class, especially on a Monday morning, sharing their betting exploits for fixtures that took place over the weekend. Going by the discussions, and because of such individuals’ ability to stake highly since they are on a payroll, the returns for those who win are alluring.

On the contrary, unemployed youth addicted to sports betting keep going blindly hoping for a win which will recoup what they’ve lost besides making them instant millionaires. The swanky Mega jackpots and success stories subliminally but prominently advertised in digital, electronic and print media act as bait to the gullible youth.

Statistics show that between April and June last year, four of Kenya’s largest betting companies cumulatively spent slightly above Sh5 billion on advertising. These companies have perfected the art of persuasion where they continually disseminate rags to riches stories.

They parade winners holding huge dummy cheques in their rural setting on all available media platforms. A few of them are elderly ladies from some of Kenya’s most remote parts, who relay messages that further sink the unsuspecting youth deeper into betting.

Gambling city

The number of those below 35 years has been recorded as being 60 per cent of the Kenyan population. This is the group that is also said to be afflicted by high rates of unemployment which in August last year was placed at 55 percent by a legislator in the august House.

Majority of these youth reside in urban or peri-urban areas that have sprung all over the country, thanks to devolution.

The largest gambling city in Kenya is Nairobi with 18 gambling facilities, 128 tables games, 908 gaming, slot, and video poker machines. Internet accessibility in Kenya has also been put at over 80 per cent and this has mainly been aided by the proliferation of mobile phones.

With all these favourable factors on their side, the youth have been turned into perpetual gamblers, who spend most of their free time engaged in the activity. Betting companies have invented ways of ensuring that even with as little as five shillings, anyone can place a bet and win one hundred times more.

This has continued the enslavement of the youth to the yokes of betting. The net effect is that they are all looking for a quick way out, without hard work and the patience required to reap from effort. In the end, they suffer gambling addiction which is also known as impulse control disorder.

Obsessive bettors, just like drug addicts are unable to control the urge to gamble even when they know their gambling is affecting them or their loved ones. They fanatically want to continue with the activity regardless of the consequences. A case in point is where as a boda boda operator killed two people in a Casino at Eastleigh after losing Sh30,000 while gambling.

Without proper legal and socio-economic structures, betting is emerging as a 21st century challenge. It is only after Cambodia suffered gambling addiction that they sought to have systems to inhibit its negative effects.

Mr Mwangi is a Communications Specialist

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