In July 2019, Kenya’s government revoked the licenses of 27 betting companies and demanded that their pay bills and short codes be suspended bringing an abrupt halt to the operations of these companies. This was surprising to many Kenyans who were not cognizant of the fact that the country played host to this many players in the ‘game’. Later in the same month the Interior CS signed the deportation orders against 17 foreigners said to be directors of gambling firms an indicator if any of the seriousness with which the government was taking that matter.
A final report on the research on the social impacts of gambling by Dr. Gerda Reith( a professor of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow) found that ‘Disadvantaged social groups who experience poverty, unemployment, dependence on welfare, homelessness, low levels of education and household income are most likely to suffer the adverse consequences of increased gambling.’ Dr.Reith in her study defines Problematic gambling as ‘behavior that is out of control and that disrupts personal, family, financial and employment relations hence linking it to financial problems such as debt and bankruptcy, divorce, lost productivity, crime (such as theft and fraud), depression and suicide.’ The research findings also concluded that availability and convenience are strongly associated with problem gambling. This research and subsequent report was written in 2006 when technology and the internet were not as ubiquitous as they are today. With the improvements in both, Las Vegas was brought to our doors! Technology has only exacerbated problem gambling in the country. In Kenya, we have seen the introduction and vast growth of the sports betting network. This has made it easy for gamblers who don’t have to walk or drive to a casino to gamble. They do it in cyber cafes or betting shops, or on their computers or smart devices. In fact if they don’t have smart devices they get to use USSD codes to make some no so smart decisions using a ‘mulika mwizi’ (a simple phone with no smart capabilities) and from anywhere. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the target market for problematic gambling. The disadvantaged members of our society continue to be the most affected by this plague. A published study in 2016 by Dr.Rachel Koross from the University of Eldoret (also from the department of Social Science) on the effects of gambling on student behavior found out that, more than 78% of university students in Kenya were participating in gambling; a very high prevalence. The study also found out that not only were majority of the students motivated by money but some gambled as a source of entertainment or simply because they were bored. Among her recommendations was the putting in place of clear policies on gambling by the government.
MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY
Gambling is now a multi-million dollar industry in Kenya with betting company owners living large life from their humongous proceeds. It is not surprising that quite a number of foreigners have taken to investing in sporting games here in Kenya. With the appeal of instant money, young men and women will prefer to not put in any productive work but to sit and hope they got their sports’ bets combination right. Those who win small money will’re-invest’ their winnings in the hope of winning it big. Those who keep losing will continue to bet as they hope to recover what they have lost making it a never ending downward spiral. A survey done by Geopoll in 2017, showed that Kenya had the highest number of betting youth in Africa. It is not surprising then that betting companies have resulted to targeted marketing towards the youth here in Kenya. The survey found that not only was the mobile phone the gambling tool of choice in Kenya at 96% , Kenyans also spent the most amount of money in gambling at an average of $50 per month. In a country where poverty is so rampant those statistics are definitely shocking.
THE LOSS ISN’T JUST MONETARY
Kenyans are being exposed to gambling at an early age. This has led to a potential in young people participating in gambling at a tender age. In Kenya, it has been reported that children as young as 14 years have experienced sports betting. The social impacts of problem gambling are not limited to financial loss alone. Other impacts include depression as well as suicide. In the past we have seen reports about young Kenyans who have resulted to suicide after losing big on their bets. It is therefore prudent that the government takes a stand and enforces policies that will protect its citizens from this highly addictive and disruptive behavior. As my statistics professor once told me, you will only believe in betting if you don’t understand the game of probabilities.
(At the time of publishing this article one of the major players in this industry is yet to make a come back into the country after they shut offices and operations in Kenya for close to 1.5 years)