Betting kills future of 1,000 Makerere students

Youth look at fixtures at a sports betting centre in Arua District in 2019. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The Lotteries and Gaming Act, 2016, mandates the National Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board to license and regulate the operations of lotteries, casinos and betting houses in Uganda.
  • The mandate includes licensing, supervision, enforcement and dispute resolution.

Predicting sports results and placing bets on them has gripped Makerere University students. 
Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the university vice chancellor, on Tuesday, said at least 1,000 students drop out of the premier institution annually after losing fees to sports betting. 
He made the remarks while presiding over the recognition of the 12 best-performing graduates of 2024 at the College of Business and Management Sciences (CoBAMS).

Prof Nawangwe said the findings were exposed in a research study on why students drop out of the institution.
But Robert Maseruka, the 89th Makerere University Guild President, said it is not only betting that is forcing the students out. He cites other reasons, including failure to raise the required tuition fees.  
Nonetheless, Prof Nawangwe maintained: “Our investigations have shown that actually those people were not [hindered by the university tuition fees]. They got fees from their parents and wanted to invest in betting in order to get interest.” 

Wasswa, a fourth year student of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB), is a former victim of sports betting. He said he only abandoned the gamble after losing millions of cash. 
Wasswa said he got hooked on chasing the jackpots in 2020, but his moment of momentous loss came on June 3, 2023. On that day, his mother entrusted him with Shs450,000 to buy a television set. 

“I was three years into the game and it had become addictive. So, once I got the money, I saw capital and an investment window,” Wasswa said yesterday. 
But after losing the wager, he switched off his phones because he was scared of facing his mother over the disaster. 

 “I went to town and met some phone dealers who bought the only smartphone I had to recover mum’s money. But they offered me a modest Shs250,000 price. I accepted because I wanted to recover my mum’s money,” Wasswa said. 
Instead of looking for more money to top up and recoup all the Shs400,000,  Wasswa again took another risk and lost. 
“That was the end of betting in my life. It had ruined everything that I possessed; my television set, bed, the allowance we receive as government students and many more,” he said.

But Wasswa’s case is not isolated. Aggrey Bazirake, a second-year Bachelor of Laws student, said several other students at Makerere University survive on online sports betting. 
Bazirake said gambling is not only in football but covers many other schemes.
Bazirake said one of his friends, who only joined the university last year, dropped out after staking his fees in an investment scheme.    
Bazirake said his friend was forced to drop out but luckily bounced back this year, after losing a full academic year. 

“He had just joined the university as a fresher but was trapped into joining the scheme after being promised high returns on investment. He squandered all the fees and had no money by registration time,” Bazirake said. 
Bazirake said although he is not into football betting, he is trying out his odds in other schemes, including cryptocurrencies and forex trading. But he said anyone who has hustled up to university should value the money and efforts their parents have invested to get them fees. 
“However much I do crypto currencies, there is no way I can even think of investing tuition that has been given to me,” he said. 

Bazirake advised his peers to look for other sources of income from their hustles and advises parents to start paying tuition themselves. 
Despite some of these letdowns, Ivan Sseremba, another student, said he cannot quit betting because it is a way of survival at campus as one invests small and earns big. 

Student leaders advise
Prince Taremwa, a Guild Representative Council (GRC) member of Margaret Trowell School of Fine Art, under the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology, said betting is a game and should be taken as such. 
“It is surprising that some people have turned betting into a business. Let the students bet only the small amounts they feel won’t have any negative impact on their lives,” Taremwa said. 
Justus Collin Waliggo, a finance secretary at Mitchell Hall, said the statement by the vice chancellor holds water. 
“I see students panicking whenever we are watching football matches here in our common room, not because their teams are losing, but because they have placed odds on the matches,” Waliggo said. 
He said the majority of students who win the bets spend the money on lavish lifestyle, including hanging out, buying phones, and television sets.

Betting companies speak out
One of the managers at a Fortebet company at Makerere, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said their clients must be 25 years and above and anyone below that age is not allowed to bet. 
“Those we suspect to be below 25 years are asked to present their national identity cards to confirm their age,” she said. 
Champion bet company workers said they have pinned notices all over their premises warning that betting is not allowed for persons below 25 years.
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