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Sports Betting: What can we do about it?

Insights into reasons for growth, effects and regulatory measures

Like cancer, sports betting has continued to eat into the lives and the careers of many youths. Attempts to regulate betting have proven futile. Betting companies have continued to grow exponentially. They have exploited a significant opportunity in the market: people’s love for football, alcohol, women, and technology. They have combined these aspects into a multi-billion industry that has wreaked havoc in the careers of many youths. They have come up with a system so addictive other than perhaps cocaine.


The boom in gambling.

The industry has burgeoned in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Kenya. A survey by Geopoll ranked Kenya as having the highest number of gambling youth and categorized sports betting as the most popular form of betting. Many factors have caused this tremendous rise. To begin with, the integration of technology into sports betting has introduced aspects such as live betting. With live betting, one can stake on virtual games and win big or lose. Secondly, with the increase in unemployment, many youths are keen to look for ways to make quick money. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, as of 2018, 7.4 million Kenyans were unemployed, and 1.4 million others were desperately looking for jobs. Due to this, many youths are turning to bet as a source of income. Thirdly, stories of overnight successes and the allure for quick money propagated by betting companies have also contributed to an increase in sports betting.

More so, betting companies allow one to gamble with any amount even as little as 20 shillings, for example, Shabiki.com. Therefore, the false belief that the money will multiply overnight, lures the youth to stake and probably will lose.

Betting companies allow one to gamble with any amount even as little as 20 shillings, for example, Shabiki.com

Fourthly, betting companies invest tremendously in advertising. According to a survey done by Reelforge on the top ten advertisers between April and June 2018, gaming companies were huge spenders. Tatua, for example, spent 1.8billion, Sportpesa spent 432 million on advertising. The problem comes not even the budget but in the marketing strategy. They portray stories and illusions of overnight successes, and others use individuals considered by the youth as role models. As a result, some kids will argue that the main reason that they engage in betting is that their hero does that. And maybe he doesn’t. For example, Bet In uses McDonald Mariga in their adverts. Mariga is an individual who the youth look up to in football matters in the country. Automatically, some think that he gambles, and maybe he doesn’t. Furthermore, the increase in betting companies has also led to a rise in sports betting. Sports betting has negatively impacted the youth.

Effects of gambling

First, there is a loss of income. In betting, one stakes an amount, hoping that one’s favorite team wins. And this is not absolute. For example, many gamblers lost yesterday when Real Madrid lost to Ajax. There have been instances where people have staked on their salaries and lost everything. The problem persists since when individuals lose, they don’t stop, so they continue losing.

Secondly, gambling has eroded the traditional values of hard work, resilience, and persistence. Betting companies carefully tailor stories of overnight successes to manipulate people. Youths no longer want to work. Bet and become a millionaire from a mere 100 shillings.

Betting has also eroded the beauty of football. Traditionally, men would meet up to watch the game because they love it. However, these days, people are flocking entertainment scenes just to ascertain whether their team has won and if the ‘bet has gone through.’ Betting has had adverse effects on households as husbands are selling away their property to gamble.

It has also led to suicides. Sometime back, a student hanged himself after staking his school fees on a Germany v Italy game in which the teams drew. The boy had staked 80,000 for a win by Germany, but that did not go as expected. Given the harmful effects of betting, governments have tried to intervene, but there has been a paradox.

The betting paradox.

Betting companies contribute a lot to the economy. According to the Business Daily, betting companies paid USD 28.3 million in taxes. Also, betting companies have revitalized sports in Kenya. Sportpesa funds major sports leagues in Kenya. It has also sponsored Gor Mahia to play in the UK and has brought Hull City to play against Gor Mahia. The teams would not have witnessed such funding were the government still funding sports in Kenya. Betting is like alcohol. It has adverse effects on the people, and yet it is a significant contributor to taxes in the economy. Given this paradox, governments have been puzzled on how to regulate betting companies and, at the same time, enjoy the ‘fruits’ that come with betting companies. Kenya attempted to reign on this by increasing the corporate tax payable by betting companies. This attempt did not resonate well with the companies as they threatened to withdraw the sponsorship of major leagues. Given that taxation did not adequately address this problem, what other measures can the government deploy?

The Measures

First, is limiting the amount by which one can stake. Given that individuals are staking high, and there is no absolute possibility of a win, there is a need to limit the maximum amount one can stake. The problem with this is that one can stake a certain amount in ten different accounts; there is a need to limit the betting accounts that one can open. For this to be operational, betting companies would be required to integrate their data on existing users to prevent the opening of suspicious accounts. Therefore, there is a need for proper data protection laws for this measure to be effective. The integration of data will ensure that individuals do not stake all their monies.

Secondly, governments should limit the registration of betting companies. Thirdly, is linking the proceeds of betting to social security and health contributions. For example, governments should take advantage of the system by creating a mandatory contribution option to NHIF. The deduction will assist the government in realizing the right to health. It will also dissuade individuals from gambling, as no one likes having their contribution reduced.

Another measure is for companies to deploy strict vetting procedures before one registers a betting account. These measures will dissuade young people from gambling. There have been instances of young people using login credentials of older siblings, and proceeds gotten are shared equally among them. The practice imbues the culture of gambling from a very young age, erodes the values of hard work, and becomes hard to stop.

The role of the media is also paramount here. Instead of glorifying overnight winners, it is up to them to show instances where individuals have gambled and lost everything. They should also educate the public on the adverse effects of betting. The show Last Week Tonight gives an accurate picture of how the media can portray gambling companies. It picturizes an individual who stakes, loses, and eventually wins 6 dollars. Though humorous, the story paints a picture of how betting ruins the careers of many people. Lastly, the government should also nurture and promote sports. Some of the biggest earners in the world are in the sports industry. The advantage of this is that even when the government deploys measures such as increasing taxes on gamblers and the companies, it will not fall prey to the blackmail of ‘withdrawal of sponsorship.’

By the year 2022, the global gambling market will be worth USD 635 billion. A gambling outlook report (2017-2021) by PWC projects that yearly turnover of sports betting would reach USD 50 million in 2020 as the demand grows. Regulators must have a Damascus moment and realize the potential and the effects of the industry. As a wise man once said, prevention is better than cure. Rather than wait until then, when the results of betting are prolific, the government should act now. In the UK, Labor Party is pushing to overhaul the online gambling law, including restrictions on how much a customer can bet and a system of checks to stop people placing wagers that they cannot afford.

The world has come to learn the lessons of failure to regulate big tech companies in a hard way. The USA is still grappling with the effects of an election manipulated by Facebook. The EU had to adopt the GDPR rules.

For the government to succeed, there ought to be the input of users. Bet reasonably. Don’t be fooled by stories of overnight success.

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