Gambling craze comes with adverse consequences — it must be reined in

Gambling, which largely revolves around luck, can be addictive.  

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Gambling, which largely revolves around luck, can be addictive. Because it promises big returns and instant fortunes. It’s now big in sports and casinos, among others.

There are online versions too. Curiously, some local radios have perfected it, appealing to faithful listeners to pay in cash tokens in order to hit jackpots. Some television stations are in it too. The craze is all around us, and has been going on for years.

For some folks, any little cash available must be ‘invested’ in these schemes. Some even borrow in order to sustain it. Others spend inordinate amounts of money and time on it, compromising opportunities for investments in predictable productive processes.

Gradually, gambling becomes compulsive and addictive. We’ve also had cases reported of some citizens committing suicide following huge loses, or failed bets.

Collectively, betting must be taking very large amounts of cash from Kenyans. But gambling is hyped, and unlikely to lift one into real and sustainable wealth. Few can boast of sustainable wealth derived from the practice. The sure and ultimate winner in gambling remains its owners.

Those suave and invisible proprietors of the gambling infrastructure, the machines and systems through which you pass over your money take the ultimate prize. While gambling earns investors and the exchequer good money, its net social-economic impact on the country is moot. Hence why we must take more interest in addressing its escalation countrywide.

The law on betting, lotteries and gaming allows the practice. However, it does not dwell on its adverse effects. As is the case with many others, the law on betting dwells on control and licensing of the practice and premises. It further provides for the imposition and recovery of taxes. Its realm is this narrow. The associated adverse consequences are left to the discernment of participants, their families or guardians. Unfortunately, many Kenyans remain shackled by joblessness and poverty.

Many of the unemployed, or underemployed, are secondary or college-level graduates, some from very poor backgrounds. This joblessness and poverty, in an environment rich with hyped advertisements promising quick wealth, easily tempts these vulnerable Kenyans into gambling. But we all know that this does not and will not provide long-term cure. Only other strategies will, be they community-based, private sector or State-driven.

Let’s therefore not leave gambling to consume our people. Let us address the vice strategically. The government appears to dare the challenge through regulatory and taxation instruments. For instance, the finance Bill 2024 proposes to raise excise tax on betting, gaming and lotteries from 12.5 percent to 20 percent. Those with opportunity to mentor the young, be they parents, teachers or guardians, should advocate against it as well. Religious and community leaders should caution against it too, and get the young to appreciate that gambling is a zero-sum game.

And like with alcohol and cigarettes, the government could take the extra measure of obliging investors to include its adverse effects in related advertisements.

Ibrahim Mwathane(Consultant on land governance: [email protected]

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