As unemployment rates continue to soar, the youth are taking their economic frustrations to casinos to gamble a living.
Move around downtown Kampala, upcountry towns and major trading centers across the country, you would most certainly lose miserably if you bet on not finding a betting outlet at a corner. We may not be as notorious gamblers a society as the West or traditional Russia, but at this rate, and considering our economic vulnerabilities, we should have all cause for worry.
Betting companies are growing like wildfire. Every week there is either a branch opening, a new company registered or planning to register. Betting is a very lucrative business for both so-called local and foreign investors. In the present economic turmoil, when rent is increasingly becoming impossible for the average trader, lucky landlords are finding a better alternative in thriving betting companies. In Kamwokya alone, a Kampala suburb, most of the houses are now occupied by betting companies.
Do you ever wonder what exactly goes on in the betting houses? Well, there are well-regulated international games, especially soccer, to bet on, with many options. These take hours to finish. There are stipulated rules and regulations against manipulating the outcomes. In essence, the betting company cannot manipulate the outcome in its favor. There are also slot machines and rapid games. And here is the trick. These are especially virtual games, fashioned after real-life, except for the fact that they are of very short-span of time. For example, a typical soccer match naturally takes ninety minutes to finish; but for a virtual soccer, it can take just two minutes, if not seconds to play out, and shortly after another match rolls on.
Betting companies are not only making a kill, but they are also ‘killing’. Who is their average customer? It is the average struggling Ugandan, who lives from day to day, and unsure of bread the next day, who will easily fall prey to their alluring odds, and fast-pacing games hoping to hit a jackpot.
You will hear of a few who have won a fair amount of money. You will hear an even more few who have hit the jackpot. But then again you will ironically hear of a gambler who won big, and gambled away the fortune in a matter of days. Gambling is highly addictive. At the addictive levels, a gambler will have to gamble until the last penny. I have had first-hand accounts of the misery and suffering visited upon by these gamblers! I have heard heart-rending stories of young men whose landlords have kicked them out of their houses for failure to pay rent. You will hear of a man who has recently lost his job over late-coming. Some will be bold enough to tell you how they lost their boss’ trust for gambling away the money entrusted with them.
Homes are starving because the bread-winner no longer brings anything home. These betting outlets are associated with stress and other mental health issues. There is a common saying in the betting circles: “If you want to lose weight rapidly, bet on virtual games.” I have heard of men who have committed suicide. Men who have grown frustrated with life, and have resigned to a life of betting.
Betting companies are aggressively marketing their products online. This is big bait for a less-desperate-but-just-getting along corporate class, and also, to my thinking, an opportunity to circumvent any regulations with regard to time limitations for betting.
Betting has its upsides, of course. The government earns revenues. Hundreds of youth have been employed, especially as cashiers. But these advantages just about fade in the face of danger betting creates—wastage of youthful energy to idleness, psychological effects, shrinking household incomes of the gamblers, and an enlargement of income gaps.
The government must intervene and save a generation from destruction. We are in a capitalistic set-up, and betting, as aforesaid, lucrative a venture as it is must be having a powerful lobby in the government. Scrapping it may be a far call. We can however save the day by putting in place strict regulatory policies both on the business and the client. Aside from regulating the time, we could go as far as censuring products—especially products without international standard guidelines that protect the consumer.