A gambling addiction is sweeping through Uganda where thousands of unemployed youths, mostly men, are regularly visiting betting shops in the hope of earning a living.
Statistics indicate that more than two thirds of Ugandans under the age of 30 don’t have a regular income and that a significant number of them are drawn to gambling as a way of making some money.
IEliteBet and Worldstar Betting are among the biggest betting shops in Uganda, along with with Betin, SBA Uganda and ABA Bet. Many of these firms are regional powerhouses in particular, Worldstar which is one the largest African bookmakers.
Although it is difficult to assess how much gamblers are spending per year in betting shops sprawled across Kabalagala Road in Kampala, which is the unofficial heart of gambling activity in the country, experts say the fact that 24-hour betting halls are operating suggests hundreds of millions is changing hands every year.
In addition, foreign websites offer additional alternatives for overzealous gamblers such as credit cards, e-wallet solutions, bank transfers or prepaid products.
A recent report in the BBC showed desperate youths congregating in betting shops to try their luck in sports betting, mainly football, which is the most popular sport across Africa.
Emma Atari, one of the youths interviewed by the BBC confessed that he had turned to gambling after failing to find employment. “I am a fresh graduate but due to lack of employment I have turned to gambling like most of the youths here,” Atari said.
Joseph Oketch, a former gambler said he had kicked off the habit after realising that betting shops were making huge profits from desperate people who lived in the hope of striking it rich one day.
“Stories of big wins give people hope that they might win a lot of money themselves,” Oketch said.
Benon Kiwanuka, a Ugandan man who won 38 million Ugandan shillings (US$10,527) on a Shs300,000 wager on 18 football matches in March 2015, is one of the success stories which keeps punters flocking into betting shops.
Unfortunately for Kiwanuka Winners Betting where he placed his bet withheld the payout, citing irregularities in the computation of his ticket.
“They say I only bet Shs3,000 and not Shs300,000 and yet that is not true. I placed a wager on Shs300,000 and the ticket I was issued is very clear on that amount. I do not know why they are denying it and have refused to honour the deal,” a frustrated Kiwanuka bemoaned his ill luck.
A Ugandan law lecturer who spoke to Team Buntu Africa on conditions of anonymity said gambling addiction in the country has spiralled out of control. “There is no evidence that the government is doing anything to address this serious problem at all,” the lecture said. “And given that tax revenue from betting shops in Uganda is now 40% higher than it was a decade ago, I think the authorities are looking the other way and are only too happy to see the money rolling into government coffers.”
Furthermore, the lecturer said Uganda was also losing a significant amount of foreign currency because players can transfer funds to the bookmaker instantly by using the mobile money bill paying feature on their phones.
“For instance, if I have a brother in the USA who sends dollars through my mobile phone transfer to help the extended family, I can easily convert that money into a gambling credit and leave my family with nothing,” the lecturer said.
Uganda’s gambling regulations were established in the 1960s, a time during which many African nations looked to take control of gaming and use casinos and lotteries as a source of income. The National Lotteries Act of 1967 and the Gaming and Pool Betting Act of 1968 were instrumental in laying down the framework that exists to this day.