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Government moves to clamp down on illegal sports betting

For some, it is a passtime hobby. For others, it is the one thing that puts food on the table.

And yet, for everyone who engages in sports betting knows all too well how easy it is to teeter to the brink of addiction with all the bets, bringing with it disastrous repercussions, writes JONATHAN KAMOGA.

As a builder who doesn’t earn much, Julius Kabanda, 35, thought he would supplement his earnings by venturing into sports betting. His plan was plain and simple; listen and read a couple of sports commentaries and then bet on the possible winners of weekend football.

That plan, however, fell flat. Before Kabanda knew it, he had sold most of the property in his house to feed his newly-found addiction.

“It started slowly. I could bet Shs 1,000 to Shs 2,000. Sometimes I lost and several times I won. So, I increased [my stake] to Shs 10,000 and that was the start of my problems,” Kabanda said.

For about three months, Kabanda hit blanks with his bets, losing money along the way.

“There is something called early kick-off. I used to bet on early kick-offs hoping to get early money. Then I would also bet on the late kick-offs but on many occasions I lost both bets,” Kabanda said.

He then started selling small items from his house in Kireka to finance his bets. It was a wrong, which later cost him his girlfriend.

“I decided to sell some things because I didn’t have enough money to bet. I tell you my house is empty now and my wife left me.”

A sports betting shop in Kamwokya

Kabanda quit betting after relatives intervened. He is now slowly trying to rebuild his life to where he was before he became an addict. Unlike Kabanda, Patrick Atuhaire, 28, a boda boda cyclist also staying in Kireka, can’t be separated from betting. Two years ago, he bought a piece of land in Mukono using his winnings.

“Some people think they will become rich from this but no, it is a game of luck.  You can be lucky today but not tomorrow.”

For 23-year-old Hashim Musoke, betting has landed him in jail twice for using his tuition fees and his friend’s savings on trying to get lucky.

“For the tuition, I spent it on an online site. And you know with online, you can bet anytime. I found myself placing bets on teams I have even never heard of and I lost everything,” he said.

His father, furious, took him to police to spend two nights there. Still, the filthy environment in prison did not dampen his spirits one bit. He was back to betting after getting out of jail.

On getting out, he used a friend’s money, Shs 200,000, to make two bets. The first bet returned Shs 50,000 while the other bet fetched him a cool Shs 12 million. However, the Shs 12 million was not paid.

“It was at Sure Bet. I went with my receipt and they told me I had forged it. It was confiscated; so, I had no way of following up the case. I decided to give up,” Musoke says.

It is because of such experiences that government has decided to come in and regulate sports betting. The newly established Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board (LGRB) is set to block both foreign and local non-registered online betting sites.

On the sidelines of its corporate launch at Serena hotel in Kampala last Tuesday, LGRB chairman, Manzi Tumubweine, told The Observer that the biggest challenge they are faced with is to regulate online betting because they cannot directly control it.

“Most of these companies have servers outside Uganda and yet they are accessible to many Ugandans here. There is no way they pay taxes and if they cheat Ugandans, there is no way we can get them,” Tumubweine said.

The board is, therefore ,working together with the ministry of Information and Communications Technology and the Uganda Communications Commission to draft guidelines on how to deal with online betting.

“We have asked the UCC to block all foreign websites that are not registered in the country and those local ones operating without licenses,” Tumubweine said.

According to the Lotteries and Gaming Act 2016, which has no provision for online betting, all betting companies, casinos and slot machine operators must operate after issuance of a license by LGRB.

With this license, it is easier to regulate the industry and ensure tax compliance. Authorities also said that online betting poses a threat on the limitation of time and age since anyone can access the internet at any time of the day, which may encourage minors into betting. Betting, the board says, should start at 10am and close by 8pm and should only be done by those above 25 years.

MORE CHALLENGES

The new board faces a tough road ahead. It is short of money and human resource, among others. Out of the 50 staff needed, LGRB has only 25, and out of the Shs 5 billion budget needed, only Shs 2 billion has been made available to run countrywide operations.

Other bottlenecks include high taxation of sector players by government and tax evasion by different companies. According to Edgar Agaba, the LGRB CEO, the industry last year collected Shs 35 billion worth of taxes, an amount he said they want to increase. However, he called for caution against raising taxes on the betting industry.

“Taxation is good but it must be reasonable. You must promote the business that you are taxing, instead of sending it out of the market,” Agaba said.

Government recently slapped a 15 per cent tax on winnings on top of the usual 30 per cent income tax. Many gaming operators criticized this tax increment. The tax is now being revised to a lesser figure.

OPERATORS SPEAK OUT

Adellah Agaba, the marketing manager of BetWay Uganda, told The Observer the issue of tax needs to be handled delicately.

“The government must also understand that this is a business; you do not have to increase taxes all the time,” she said.

Solomon Kajura, the general secretary of Uganda Bookmakers and Gaming Association, said that even with the high taxation, they pay other fees to the local authorities. He added that government should stop painting a wrong picture of gaming companies while drafting laws.

“We want to be seen as a business and we shall comply with the regulations smoothly,” he said. “Most of these policies are instead killing us who comply by registering, while our (unregistered) competitors, who don’t even pay taxes, are growing. Parliament should stop making laws basing on moral and spiritual inclination; this is a business.”

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