Gambling and gaming are turning out to be a popular pastime for Kenyans seeking a pie of the $183 billion (Sh18.3 trillion) global casino gambling market.
Mobile and online platforms have made it easier for gaming firms and punters to converge on a field that leaves a few winners crackling with joy while the majority cry in anguish after losing bets.
Gambling, sports betting, lottery and derivatives of this fast-expanding industry have economic and social benefits but also their harmful side.
Reports show governments earn considerable revenue from gambling and gaming, which has links to tourism and entertainment, but are also concerned about their inability to effectively regulate the field.
The most widely used measure of the size of this industry is the revenue it generates.
Trends captured by PwC in its Global Gaming Outlook 2011-2015 show the global gambling casino market expanding rapidly with Asia-Pacific overtaking the United States as the top region.
Europe, Middle East and Africa are underdogs.
Kenya has a turnover of Sh3 billion shillings a year and growing but the figure could be understated because it only captures the formal market.
The biggest problem with the local industry is lack of reliable information on which to assess its performance and contribution to the economy.
The over 50-year-old Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) has no relevant statistics online; hence, there’s little to justify the regulator’s assertion that the industry makes a positive contribution to the economy.
In the more developed markets, the size and impact of this industry is clear.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Gambling Commission provides key facts and figures about the industry.
Its latest annual report, for 2016/17, published in March last year, shows an industry with revenues of £13.8 billion and 106,678 employees.
The detailed report shows how many people participated in each type of gambling activity, the number of gaming shops and machines and other important statistics and trends.
The BCLB needs to develop this kind of reporting for a clear perspective on the industry.
But while it contributes to government revenue and jobs, sentiments against this industry are increasing globally, mostly driven by its negative socio-economic effect, particularly on those who become addicted to gambling and betting.
The British commission’s annual report includes a consumer survey, which estimates that 2.5 million people are at risk of experiencing gambling problems with 320,000 labelled as “problem gamblers”.
Negative perceptions of the industry abound. They include more people associating gambling with crime than those who think it’s “fair and trusted” while others describe it as dangerous for family life.
Just like in Kenya, parents in the UK feel more helpless than ever that children and youth are getting addicted to gambling.
Gambling addiction is said to be as bad as that of narcotics and alcohol.
Addicts have no control over their habits, spend much time and money gambling and aren’t conscious of its consequences on their health and future.
The link between gambling and crime is frightening; it’s the result of what happens when addicted gamblers lose bets or run short of cash.
In extreme cases, gamblers can become violent, steal and even commit suicide.
There are also cases of habitual gamblers in high office being involved in corruption and money laundering.
Such vices and consequences can only be managed with adequate information on key players and activities to develop a well-defined and -understood mechanism of promoting the positive attributes of the industry and protecting gamblers’ lives and sanity.
Weeding out illegal gambling dens and operators is more urgent now than ever before.
Mr Warutere is director of Mashariki Communications Ltd. [email protected]