How Former President Moi stepped in to tame gambling craze

Former President Daniel Moi [Courtesy]

A gambler never makes the same mistake twice. It’s usually three or more times, noted one writer.

Former President Moi, who died yesterday, knew this all too well.

In a classic case of history repeating itself, the gambling craze once rocked Kenya during its early independence years. The bug hit some politicians prompting Moi to issue an executive order to counter it.

Then Vice President was at the forefront to tame the vice, insisting that he was only acting to save “Kenyan families.”

He banned slot machines, ordered gambling to be done in foreign currency and was instrumental in formation of the betting regulator.

In 1982, he ordered public servants, MPs and other leaders not to set foot in casinos. The stringent measures were designed to save families from effects of gambling, especially after losing a bet.

“No good thing can be expected, from leaders and other people who go gambling at the casinos,” said Moi.

“We want decent families, free from all social evils such as gambling,” he added.

Moi said Kenya needed leaders to concentrate on serving wananchi instead of spending time in casinos. “We want leaders to concentrate their efforts to listening to and understanding the problems of wananchi with a view of solving them. They cannot do this if they spend most of their time in casinos,” he said. 

Locked out many

Then Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) chairman Samson Muriithi had also raised concern over the hours civil servants spend gambling. 

Mr Muriithi said although the state earned revenue from casinos, “it did not consider betting a good occupation for civil servants.” 

He observed that betting could “adversely affect” their incomes and interfere with the time they needed to serve wananchi.

The Central Bank of Kenya ordered casinos to appoint a commercial bank to operate a foreign currency imprest in their premises for the purpose of a float.

The rules locked out many Kenyans from gambling in casinos but Moi noted that the move would help Kenya earn additional foreign exchange from gamblers.

Trade unionists feared that 1,500 employees would lose jobs after the directive.

In 1966, Moi then Minister for Home Affairs and Vice President announced formation of the Betting Control and Licensing Board. Around that time, there was a new menace in town “one-armed bandits” - slot and amusement machines, estimated to be about 3,000 in Nairobi with most concentrated in the Central Business District (CBD).

The gaming machines are presently a headache to the Jubilee Administration and Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has launched an all-out war on gambling.

After Moi’s ban, the slot machines “crept back” after seven months and just as the case today they could not be easily phased out

“The rattle of fifty cent and shilling pieces was heard reverberating round the premises,” reported one newspaper upon their return.

Authorities then, however, said they were now more properly controlled – the same sentiments even now.

In Parliament, leaders were also railing against casinos. In 1966, Kirinyaga Senator R.N Gikunju described gambling as an “evil practice for an individual to own a gambling business to collect money from society.”

The Casino Bill 1970 was introduced to tighten the noose on the industry and effectively ban leaders from casinos.

Another MP welcomed the Bill saying he was just about to hire a gang to go around destroying gambling machines.

The measure would now stop “unscrupulous people from robbing the poor of their money with the lure of big winnings,” said the MP.

He said gambling was turning Kenya into a “dirty Las Vegas.”

Today, that Kenya is a “gambling nation” is an open secret.

Mobile phones and cheap internet have only aided the trade. In recent past, the gambling craze has worsened prompting government to intervene through tight regulation and taxation. Dr Matiang’i last year introduced tough measures in the industry which led to some sports betting giant firms to quit Kenya.

One survey placed Kenya ahead of countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda in betting. [Wainaina Wambu]


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