As Parliament debated, modified, and approved the government’s budget proposals over the past few weeks, it appeared that some mischievous fellows managed to sneak in amendments meant to cushion the betting industry.
In a move aimed at testing the public sentiment during this time when everyone is focused on dealing with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Parliament voted to remove some elements of taxation imposed on gambling in this country.
This happened at a time when some betting companies had started making bold public appearances, with one of them recently announcing sponsorship packages for local football teams and the league.
Media reports indicated that some investors had even gone ahead and acquired stakes in the betting industry, anticipating the windfall that is expected with the reduced gambling taxes.
We have argued clearly in the past that gambling has the same effect on the developing brain as an addictive substance, and in the long run, young people engaged in gambling face the same risks to their mental health as those engaged in harmful substance use.
Gambling has been known to directly cause mental ill health, as well as to trigger other mental disorders among vulnerable individuals. The ease of gambling by way of online and mobile platforms only serves to increase these risks as home-bound young people seek ways of entertaining themselves under existing movement and socialisation restrictions.
Increased taxation is one tried and tested method to reduce demand for gambling and other socially undesirable goods and services. In combination with other public health measures, high taxes have played a significant role in cutting harmful habits like tobacco and alcohol use.
PATH OF DESTRUCTION
In Kenya, similar moves in the recent years has reduced the prominence of betting in our national life, with many betting companies closing shop, and others relocating to ‘friendlier’ jurisdictions. If these moves saved even a few lives from the path of destruction, the government and Parliament should pat themselves on the back for having a lasting positive impact on the future of this country.
It is, therefore, very sad that some unscrupulous individuals have schemed to begin reversing this progress for the sake of quick profits. Their attitude reflects the morality of our society, which for a long time has been on a trajectory that glorifies wealth accumulation by all means, and values are so flexible as to be non-existent.
It is conceivable that those behind the moves to reduce the gambling taxes calculated that in spite of public anger and indignation, they would be able to make huge profits in the period before the law could be reversed.
In my opinion, the government and Parliament must move with speed to ensure that nobody benefits from this mischief.
They must do whatever it takes to reintroduce the taxes that were removed from gambling, and even enhance them to make it that much more difficult for a young person to get exposed to gambling platforms.
Lukoye Atwoli is an associate professor of psychiatry at Moi University’s School of Medicine; [email protected]