A heated debate is currently going on about the government’s move to implement a 35 per cent tax on total gaming income. Not 35 per cent on their profits, but 35 per cent on their revenue, which the Association of Gaming Operators – Kenya is understandably up in arms against.
I agree with the association that tax is not the solution to the gaming and betting craze. The solution here is rather simple and radical: Let us ban commercial sports gambling altogether.
There is not much research on the extent to which gambling and betting have affected the youth in Kenya. This remains a grossly under-researched area, which is ironical, especially if you consider a 2016 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers which estimated that the sports betting industry brings in an annual turnover of Sh2 billion, with a projected increase to Sh5 billion in 2020.
That said, from the scanty research carried out, we can tell for sure that sports gambling is ubiquitous among the youth.
A research conducted in 2016 by Dr Rachel Koross from the University of Eldoret and published in the International Journal of Liberal Arts and Social Science, suggests that 78 per cent of university students are actively involved in gambling.
Working with a sample of 100 students from Kisii University in Eldoret, Dr Koross found that the students are often turning to gambling as a solution to financial problems, and that they often borrow money or use their education loans to gamble.
EFFECTS OF GAMBLING
A similar study conducted in 2017 by Amani Mwadime from USIU, that sampled 100 random Nairobi residents, shows that betting is mostly common among young men aged between 21 and 40 years. Most of the men engaging in betting are employed, which means that they get their gambling cash from their salaries.
In fact, Mwadime’s research shows that young men who are employed with stable salaries are more likely to engage in sports betting than entrepreneurs and unemployed people.
So, it is not unemployed youths who are gambling, but those on a salary. That means they are spending a significant chunk of money they are supposed to be saving to gamble.
Just to give you an idea of what is happening, statistics from the Betting Control and Licensing Board suggest that at least two million Kenyans are actively engaged in sports betting.
Now that we know from research, not intuition, that over 70 per cent of university students are gambling and betting, it is time for us to understand the adverse effects of gambling, especially among the youth.
A 2017 study conducted by Seda Awaworyi Churchill and Lisa Farrell established a positive relationship between gambling and depression, while another 2004 study by Nower and colleagues shows that suicidal tendencies increase with pathological gamblers, despite their age and gender.
Other effects of gambling, according to Erika Langham and colleagues include financial harm, relationship conflict, criminal activity, emotional and psychological distress.
HOTBEDS OF BETTING
The media, including the Saturday Nation, have also highlighted stories of young people committing suicide after losing bets.
The question is: How many more students have to die before we finally ban sports betting?
If we are not going to ban it for the simple reason that we are losing young people to betting addiction and suicide, let’s do it because countries such as the US and the UK are today debating whether they should outlaw sports betting.
In the US, The New York Times reported that the federal government has proposed a law that intends to ban sports gambling. For obvious reasons, individual states have opposed this law because of the additional tax revenues they gain from this business, but my point is, if the US government is seeking to ban sports gambling, then there is a serious problem with it.
In the UK, The Guardian reported four days ago that the government is reviewing its gambling regulations to include a ban on using credit cards for gambling online and also heavily taxing gambling companies to fund the campaign against gambling addiction which is on the rise. The article reported that there are about 430,000 “problem gamblers” in the UK.
In Africa, countries like Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are some of the hotbeds of sports betting. Ghana is already getting concerned about betting addiction among the youth.
Kenya is known for being a trailblazer. I propose that we be among the first countries to ban sports betting in Africa. We can do this.