Tackling dangers of gaming is top priority

Youth look at fixtures at a sports betting centre in Arua District in 2019. Several youth in Ankole Sub-region visit betting companies either physically or online to stake their little hard earned money. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • There have even been calls to delegalize gambling but from what we have seen from other jurisdictions around the world, this only leads to punters being forced into the arms of unscrupulous black-market operators..

Ugandans are renowned for loving their sports, particularly football. Whether it is the Masaza Cup, English premier league, or the upcoming world cup tournaments, Ugandan sports lovers will congregate for the love of the game.

In Uganda, gambling is a legitimate and popular leisure activity, enjoyed by many and the irrevocable truth is, it is here to stay, especially with the recent technology that makes it borderless.

But if you gamble you should expect to lose since essentially, it’s a game of chance.  Gambling should be budgeted as an expense, just like going out for dinner, and not considered a way to make money.

The National Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board is a regulator in a challenging and dynamic industry. Like many sectors, the gambling industry and the way people gamble are increasingly influenced by technological and social developments. The industry is larger and more accessible than it has ever been, with licensed gambling having grown steadily every year as evidenced by the revenue so far collected totaling to 110 bn in the just concluded financial year 2021/22.  But this has not been without consequences.

In the last few years, the gaming industry has borne the brunt of public scrutiny, both from those who bet and those who don’t. The question seems to be around whether the industry is doing anything, or rather doing enough to ensure the protection of the public against an activity that has a besmirched reputation. And for good reason.

Last week, Muzafaru Muwonge 25, a student at Bushenyi Technical College committed suicide after staking his mother’s 1 million shillings in sports betting. There are many more.

There have even been calls to delegalize gambling but from what we have seen from other jurisdictions around the world, this only leads to punters being forced into the arms of unscrupulous black-market operators, who have none of the safeguards put in place by a regulated sector. Thousands of Ugandans flock betting shops and online so it is vitally important that they do so in a safe environment, rather than the unscrupulous black market. The regulated betting and gaming industry employs over 100,000 people and contributes billions in Corporate Social Responsibility.

In 2016, NLGRB was established by the Lotteries and Gaming Act to supervise and regulate the operations of all gaming activities in Uganda and, most of all, to protect citizens from its adverse effects.  

Before its establishment, Uganda was grappling with the unprecedented growth of an unregulated industry which was a major conduit for money laundering.

As a regulator, we have our work cut out for us.  Our first point of action is the compliance and enforcement arms who ensure that the stakeholders in the industry rightfully and lawfully belong: That means no under-age punters, no illegal operators- they must be licensed and comply with regulatory obligations.

Secondly, we have rolled out several responsible gaming initiatives that are aimed at reducing gaming harm in communities. The Board’s main mandate is to protect Ugandans from the adverse effects of gaming, and it’s a role we fiercely protect and hold our licensed operators to the same standards.  We have partnered with all regional hospitals countrywide to provide first line counselling and treatment to people who may be affected. To reduce these harms, we have increased our regulatory action (such as penalties on operators that break rules) and our collaboration with others in the field. However, we cannot do this single handedly- a wide range of partners will need to play their part for us to deliver this role.

Precious Birungi is the protocol and public relations officer, National Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board.

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