EDITORIAL: Time to fix the law on gambling lest runaway sports betting ruin us all

Sunday August 11 2019

Thousands of young people in Kigali wake up

Thousands of young people in Kigali wake up every morning and crowd themselves in sports betting shops in the hope of earning a living. PHOTO | Cyril NDEGEYA 

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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A few years ago, the government legalised betting and gambling through a law regulating the industry.

Rwanda is a free market economy so it was just a matter of time before new-age trends in this industry like sports betting, came to Rwanda, but perhaps even the regulators didn't know the dangers that were lurking.

Now, many as young as 18 years of age and others older with families, are being ravaged by sports betting addiction that has affected their socio-economic statuses.

The English Premier League has resumed, but much as to many it is a source of entertainment — what with the action-packed soccer games, to others the league is just going to feed the monster of the betting addiction.

Countries such as Kenya and Tanzania where sports betting existed before Rwanda, governments are taking stringent measures against it.

For example, Kenya has declined to renew licences for a number of them. Despite being a strong revenue earner in taxes, sports betting comes with a cost, a socioeconomic one.

Although closing betting companies in Rwanda at the moment might be overly reactive, and probably attract lawsuits, the line authority needs to revisit its regulations.

In most of the betting houses, there is a sign indicating that it's prohibited for those below 18 years to play, but this is not strictly observed because no identification is asked in many of these betting houses.

The Ministry of Trade and Commerce is currently working on updating regulation for gambling and sports betting but it still needs to do a survey on the impact and cost of the industry on the socioeconomic aspects of the people to make more informed decisions.

This week, the first-ever Rwandan online gaming and sports betting system, Gorilla games — which has inbuilt algorithm that flags people who exhibit addiction patterns after which lock the person out of the system — was unveiled.

Every player opens an account with them and the in-built algorithm looks at patterns like people who play at odd hours — for instance 2:00 am — but this also seems insufficient to track addiction patterns.

Sports betting has been taken as a source of income by some Rwandan, many of whom are unemployed or struggling to make ends meet.

As Rwanda adopts modern-day economic trends, which have been embraced by many unemployed citizens, and those prone to get-rich-quick schemes, the government needs to be alert at the regulation level.

Rwanda needs to learn from countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda which have interfaced the ugly underbelly of sports betting, yet they also had regulations in place, to learn where they went wrong so it can fix the gaps.

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