OPINIONPeople Daily

Regulate rather than eradicate betting firms

In recent months, the government has piled pressure on betting firms in a determined effort to check their growth amid an ever-growing appetite for gambling.

From imposing punitive tax measures to ordering telcos to shut down paybill numbers and short codes of 27 firms, the assault on betting has never been more intense.

The government argues that the betting market is skewed to benefit owners while gamblers are left nursing financial wounds. It further contends that in the process of making a few millionaires even wealthier, millions of gamblers get addicted with no hope for rehabilitation.

During a stakeholders meeting in April, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said 500,000 youths were deep in debt and have been blacklisted by lenders because of borrowing to place bets.

Soon after, he launched an aggressive crackdown on betting firms. Only last evening, the CS signed a deportation order for 17 foreign officials of betting firms.

In May, the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB)  banned advertisements and commercials that feature gambling.

BCLB’s contention is that gambling had the potential of harming the consumer amid concerns that punters were getting addicted as well as suffering from psychological disorders. No empirical evidence was provided.

It is mischievous that while the government has clamped down on some betting firms, others continue to operate.

More suspicious is that the biggest, more established firms which have transactional transparency regarding their books, are the ones who are apparently targeted.

And despite proof of compliance, the government still accuses them of lacking requisite regulatory approvals.

Although the companies have released their financial statements, including tax remittances, the government so far is playing hard ball. Financial statements of one firm show it earned Sh20 billion in 2018, out of which it paid Sh6.3 billion in taxes.

This is in contrast to claims betting firms were raking in Sh200 billion in revenue against tax remittances of Sh4 billion.

The selective manner in which the crackdown on betting is done is worrying. Are some firms being pushed out of the industry to edge up others?

The war on betting firms seems to be aimed at squeezing life out of their bottom lines to force them to fold. In short, they are being punished  for being successful.

The government has disregarded the fact that there is the permissible 18-and-above age nod for most our social indulgences. The law assumes adults make rational choices.

Like indulging in excessive consumption of alcohol, betting is an individual’s decision and should remain so.

Methinks, the government shouldn’t assume the role of a moral police, as it purports to protect Kenyans from gambling.

I don’t agree that gambling is a vice that needs urgent eradication. It can be regulated, like other businesses, but not pushed out. Applying unorthodox tactics to push the firms off the cliff is immoral.


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