Politicising betting is a poor wager

Tuesday February 21 2017

 illegal gaming machines

Security officers display impounded unlicensed gambling machines on October 30, 2016 in Kisumu County. One of the biggest challenges facing the nation is the proliferation of illegal gaming machines. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ANTHONY KIMANI
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Let me start by disabusing Kenyans of several notions that may form the foundation of misinformation as the public debate on regulating the betting, lotteries and gaming industry gains momentum.

Indeed, the debate has just gone a notch higher, but there is a tendency to distort or disregard facts.

The first piece of misinformation is that the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) is not up to speed with the dynamic developments in the industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The board, which is under the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, instituted the introduction of regulation and other measures in 2015.

The mandate of the board includes controlling and licensing betting and gaming premises; authorising public lotteries and prize competitions, eliminating illegal gambling; protecting the members of public against fraud; safeguarding the underage and vulnerable against gambling and promoting responsible gaming.

Because of media attention, much focus is trained at the sports betting and lotteries firms.

However, one of the biggest challenges facing the nation is the proliferation of illegal gaming machines in virtually every shopping centre countrywide.

These machines are not only a security threat, but provide a potent recipe for gambling addiction by youth.

To ensure control and verification of standards of these machines, the board has to verify details of the importing institution, and exporters as well as the gambling jurisdiction’s authority as to whether the devices are of the high standards required by Kenyan jurisdiction.

CREDIBLE ACCOUNT

To combat the danger posed by the machines, the board sought the support of the Kenya Revenue Authority’s Customs Department to ensure that all importers of gaming equipment have the requisite clearance from the board.

In mid-January, KRA issued a notice to all the importers and Customs agents, stopping the importation of equipment without authorisation from the regulator.

The move will ensure protection of the public, enhance regulation and tighten taxation.

In early December last year, I issued a communication to all county commissioners to remove gambling machines from all shops and villages.

The Cabinet secretary, Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Mr Joseph Nkaissery, later reiterated the same in a directive, whilst also revoking purported pilot authorisation of such machines.

On the matter of winnings advertised by the lottery and sports betting firms; in October last year, the board made it mandatory that all monies promised and advertised as jackpots should be deposited in a fixed account with a reputable bank and evidence presented to the board before any advertisements are placed in the media.

Betting, gambling and gaming are not illegal. The law regulating the industry has been in existence since 1966.

However, in the recent past, the industry has exponentially grown, especially on the back of sports betting.

The most bandied piece of misinformation surrounds the recently introduced Betting, Lotteries and Gaming (Amendment Bill), 2016.

The author of the Bill sought to imply that the regulator has not offered any guidance to the industry. This is not true.

BE CLEARHEADED

The regulator, through its parent ministry, has drawn up regulations, sought input from stakeholders as directed by the Constitution and engaged with the office of the Attorney-General to ensure that the regulations are aligned with the laws.

The regulations have taken cognizance of the dynamism of the industry and its accompanying technology.

The regulations, if approved, shall apply to online and mobile bookmaking; online and mobile lotteries; online and mobile casinos; and online and short messages services games and promotions.

The regulations are also aimed at protecting the society from the over-hyping of the demand for gambling; protect the young and vulnerable in society from the negative effects of gambling; promote the development of a responsible gambling, betting and gaming industry; and prevent it from being used in money laundering.

Admittedly, there has been a delay in gazetting the regulations, but this should not be used as a reason to hastily introduce a Bill that overlooks the tremendous input from across the board, and consultations with other gambling jurisdictions to tap into best practices from other nations.

The regulations address the previous weak regulatory and institutional framework.

They cover licensing and renewals, registration of players, payment of winnings.

We need to interrogate the regulations dispassionately and avoid politicising the industry.

Mr Kimani is the executive chairman, Betting Control and Licensing Board