The price of betting on Ugandans

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Men check a notice board at a sports betting centre

Men check a notice board at a sports betting centre. Betting is a form of gambling which is usually marketed by highlighting the stories of previous winners. Photo by Rachel Mabala 

By  James Abola

Posted  Wednesday, December 11  2013 at  13:29

Betting is a rapidly growing activity across the country. You will not miss a gambling shop in any major town and trading centre. The most common form is sports betting, where people predict the result of football matches in the hope of winning a cash prize but there are also the traditional card games and the like as well.

Betting is a form of gambling which is usually marketed by highlighting the stories of previous winners.

One story I heard is of a university student who staked all his fees for the semester and won a huge prize which enabled him to pay the fees for the remaining part of his course in addition to acquiring the proverbial car.

When the winning stories are passed around, people conveniently forget to mention the majority who lose out. The way gambling is structured is that the only sure winner is the gambling house. When people are getting discouraged, a little bone is thrown their way to encourage them to bring more money to the table.

A society that takes so readily to gambling like Ugandans have done is a society of losers. In other countries that play the lottery, it is the central government and local government that runs the scheme so one can be comforted by the fact that the bulk of the money is ending up in the public coffers. Not so in Uganda where the gambling houses are all private and many go untaxed.

As a graduate of Statistics, I see another big misfortune among gamblers. The very actions they take in the bid to increase their chances of winning actually work in the opposite direction. For example, putting several bets on the same item does not increase your chances of winning because each bet you put is independent of the others you have put.

Another big money loser is when people get tempted to win big money by betting on a syndicate where say you have to predict the scores of 10 football games in different leagues. The betting houses are more knowledgeable about the statistics than the players so they are smiling at the end of the day while the players are drenched in tears.

The addiction
When it becomes addictive, there is no known cure or vaccine for gambling. I have heard of very sad stories of compulsive gamblers. A young man in Gulu went to a betting shop ridding his boda boda motorcycle. He kept placing higher bets and losing until he finally put up his motorcycle which he also lost. Another young man, a manager with a Kampala business was given a big amount of money to take to the bank. The manager thought with such a huge amount, he would be a sure winner if he spread his bet; Shs25 million (about $10,000) down later he had lost everything. He went and took his own life.

As with most things of this nature, rescue for victims of gambling will not come from government which acts rather slowly if at all. As a country, we are not doing ourselves any favours by getting so many young people taking up gambling as a form of life. Because of the built in system of losses to gamblers, we are setting the stage for recruits into organised crime.

James Abola is the Team Leader of Akamai Global, a business and finance consulting firm. Email: