Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui has warned that the growing culture of gambling among Kenyans is a major threat to economic growth.
Mr Kinyanjui expressed concern that sports betting, gaming and gambling companies had diverted the attention of youth from the pursuit of education and hard work.
“Without proper legal and socio-economic structures, betting is emerging as our greatest challenge in the 21st century. Unfortunately, gambling is legal and is perceived as a recreational activity in Kenya. However, there are no clear laws governing sports betting, leaving betting companies to set their rules and play by them,” lamented the governor.
He was speaking at a forum organised by religious leaders and attended by Members of Parliament from the County. Nakuru Woman Representative Elisabeth Chelule was also present.
The governor proposed that no new betting company should be allowed to operate in the country while existing companies’ licenses should not be renewed once they expire.
“The emergence of gambling occasioned by multiple betting platforms, threatens to implode what was intended to be a leisurely activity. Some of these firms make Sh 900 million a month yet they give out a measly Sh 50 million in prizes.
Many gullible youth and the old alike are fully immersed and drowning in this betting insanity. Gambling, especially sports betting, is fast becoming a great threat to Kenyan youths”, warned the governor
Governor Kinyanjui said promotion of social norms such as working hard to earn a meal and legislative interventions must be engaged to stamp out the dangers of gambling from among the citizenry.
Studies conducted through Geopoll on the rise of sports betting on the continent show Kenya has the highest number of gambling youth aged between 17-35 years in Sub-Saharan Africa and sports betting has become the most popular form of gambling.
Besides the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act of 1966, which made way for gambling as a practice to be introduced, Kenya lacks a solid legal framework to control sports betting. The closest the government has come to regulating the industry was in September last year when a 20 percent tax on bettors’ wins was introduced through the Finance Bill 2018.
Currently there are 23 betting sites in Kenya offering both online and offline betting services. Some gambling platforms even offer lotteries with wager amounts as low as Sh5.
The governor called on the government to increase the tax paid by betting companies to make them increase the amount of stakes to levels that the youth cannot afford to discourage them from gambling.
“Because they earn or lose a lot of money within a short span of time, many youth have become lazy and depend on the addictive gambling instead of working. Some end up stealing in order to get money for placing their stakes” noted Mr.Kinyanjui
However Molo Member of Parliament Kuria Kimani differed with the governor’s proposals in reining in the betting industry, adding that the legal frameworks in place were adequate to check excesses of gaming.
“It is a matter of personal choices. The governor should not fault gaming companies as this county is also a major beneficiary of gambling proceeds,” said the lawmaker.
By Anne Mwale and Dennis Rasto