Every other Radio station is broadcasting it every other minute. Indeed, most of the radio stations have their own betting setups. “Use your phone and send twenty shillings to two zero two three four and win millions” they declare.
An elderly lady at our office, 45 plus years of age walked up to me and posed “si unibetie leo? (Please bet for me today?). She could not do it by herself because she did not know how to navigate the smartphone properly. She had heard about sports betting from the radio and TV adverts and believed it was just as easy as putting your money on the phone, sending it to the said number and winning millions. In fact, when I tried to explain how betting works I could see consternation in her grey eyes; she was literally saying “you are delaying me from winning millions”.
On one of our Financial Education tours with Standard Chartered Bank in Nyanza province in Kenya, a secondary school student walked up to me and said he needed help because he had used his Ksh 22,000 school fees to place several bets on gambling sites and had lost everything and is unable to concentrate on his studies as he dreaded being sent home from school to his harsh parents who will not understand this kind of shenanigan.
He is not alone. Stories of who has lost a lot of money betting abound;
Many a housewife has betted with the food money, risking starvation for the family, being battered and divorced.
A cashier has taken money from his employers till, betted and lost it all, then lost his job.
A man has betted using his rent and now his landlord has thrown his furniture, cookware, and family outside.
A boyfriend has wagered his girlfriend on a game and is now confused on what to do after losing the bet.
These scenarios are replicated all over our country and go unreported. There are many mild cases of gamblers who win today and lose more tomorrow, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.
Sports betting is the in thing in Kenya currently, thanks to the internet of things and online money transfer services like Mpesa, Airtel money, Telkom cash etc. Sports betting is a kind of gambling where you place your money on the outcome of a game, be it Football, Tennis etc and if your prediction turns out to be true, you win the bet.
Winning a bet is pure probability and statistics show that the probability of winning a jackpot is one out of 10million.
Betting companies invest hundreds of millions of shillings in advertising to lure their customers into betting their hard-earned money on the promise of winning millions of shillings. Most of these companies’ arguments to win customers are three-fold, let us dismantle them one by one
- Gambling is an investment
Investment is the act of putting your money in a productive venture with the promise of a reasonable return over time. When investing, you have a good chance of controlling the activity or the outcome of the venture by for example instituting serious fraud mitigations, physical controls, and managerial controls. You also have the chance of quantifying and passing the unknown risks to an insurer.
In an investment, through actions such as marketing, production planning, warehousing, transportation etc, you can control the flow of income and minimize loses.
In contrast, betting requires that we put our money on the outcome of a natural event that we have no control over, such as the outcome of a game between Brazil and Belgium. While the underlying activity is genuinely a productive investment and that investors in football can manage the activity and risks to an extent, the betting on the outcome is purely speculative and has no value add to the outcome of the game.
Gambling is therefore not an investment since it neither promises the investor any return or the investor has the ability to control the flow or timing of the cash flows and neither can he quantify the risks in a way that can be helpful in managing or passing them to an insurer.
- With a small amount, you will win millions.
The general profile of most sports betting customers is the youth and less financially well-off people in the society.
This profile of people has zero or very limited understanding of the betting jargon such as odds, risks, and outcomes and betting companies are doing very little to further this awareness.
A continuous bombardment of advertising on the possibility of winning by betting small amounts lures people into diverting funds required for survival into betting leading to a perpetuation of poverty cycles.
Due to the very nature of betting, there are very few winners such as Gordon Ogada and Samuel Abisai who won Ksh 230m and Ksh220m respectively. These very few winners are broadcasted extensively to the feed the continuous cycle of false hopes and fake stimuli of wealth for the young and poor into thinking they will become the next millionaires. We should see equal broadcasting of the losers such as 2016 university student who hung himself after losing ksh79k.
- Betting is a recreation activity like drinking alcohol, dancing, sporting, travelling or watching the game.
Entertainment is any activity that creates enjoyment. It can do this by either calming down edgy nerves, providing nourishment both physical (food), spiritual (church) or mental and emotional.
Entertainment is the end result of consuming entertaining stuff and does not lead to further expectation or anxiety but rather relaxes the partaker.
Betting layers on top of entertainment and creates a new cycle of expectation and anxiety hence leading to a state of zero relaxation, lack of sleep to the majority of the betters and general discomfort because the wager has zero control over the outcome. Remember we said the chances of winning a jackpot are one out of ten million, that means that ten million people are funding one person and the betting company. In this equation, only two people are relaxing at the expense of ten million; what asymmetry?
Society should stand firm against betting because
- Little control to limit the participation of the youth and underage.
- The main participants are the youth, who use most of their productive time betting instead of engaging in productive work such as studying that can uplift their lives and country. We currently do not have sufficient framework to guard against underage betting. If alcohol has been restricted to under 18 years, betting should also be vetted for that age group.
- Most betting sites convince the gullible that betting is a productive exercise.
- There are no goods and services produced at the end of a betting exercise, instead, productive time is spent gambling, reducing the overall efficiency of our country.
- Majority of the gamblers lose their money.
- This feeds a vicious cycle of poverty yet one of our national founding prayers at independence in 1963 was to fight poverty.
- The argument by betting companies that they are creating millionaires is hogwash.
- What is the advantage of getting one millionaire who is ill-equipped with financial literacy knowledge; who then loses the money in a few months while making 10 million paupers?
- Addictive nature of betting
- Losing or winning a bet fuel the desire to place the next bet, which creates an uncontrollable urge to bet continuously leading to continuous loses.
What should the Government and Religious outfits do?
The government has a responsibility to deliver our founding prayers to the people. We cannot continue talking about fighting poverty 55 years after independence, yet we cannot be firm against obvious hindrances against the same fight. The government should
- Immediately ensure that no school/university going youth are allowed to bet. This is to allow them to study and develop their careers instead of trading their time for gambling.
- Increase taxes for both betting companies and the individual winners. These taxes should be specifically channeled to creating employment opportunities for the youth.
- Compel betting companies to educate their clients on the advantages and disadvantages of betting while at the same time encouraging them to embrace financial literacy for the masses too. Financial Literacy will help the masses clearly understand how to earn, spend and grow money but most importantly, the difference between investing and gambling.
- Compel betting companies to disclose the number of winners in equal measure as to the number of losers.
Most religions do not support gambling. The fact that we are now engaged in online betting does not in anyway lessen the weight of gambling as a sin. The Christian faith in Proverbs 28:19, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty” is clearly pointing to the hazards of gambling.
Religious leaders should guide their flock in addressing this issue by being the first ones to shun the act. It is immoral for a religious leader to be featuring betting advertisements, either in church or on the radio or anywhere else. Instead, they should encourage productive investments that increase wealth steadily in order for our country to make progressive steps in addressing the issue of poverty.
Back to the elderly lady at our office; someone else betted for her and in a span of three months, she had lost Ksh68k. She was on a gross salary of Ksh 35k per month and now is in a constant borrowing cycle.
While society is deeply divided over the issue of betting, progressive steps should be taken to reduce the impact on the most vulnerable of the society, who are the youth and poor populace in order to reduce poverty, reduce the gap between the rich and poor and eventually grow a balanced society free from poverty.