How bad must gambling get before we have guts to ban it?

Gambling does have its share of benefits to the economy, as well as provides entertainment value to those who take part in it. But it also has negative effects that must at least be tamed if not completely eliminated

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By Newton Arori

The past few years have witnessed an exponential growth in the gambling industry in Kenya, especially in the form of sports betting. That growth, however, is not without its fair share of challenges. The players, who are predominantly unemployed youth, have been on the receiving end of the perils of the vice that is gambling – it is not unusual to read in the dailies about suicides triggered by a lost bet.

Sports betting, like any other form of gambling, are often harmless when engaged in as a form of entertainment. Unfortunately, many do not view it as so. To them, it is a way of making money, a source of livelihood. The betting establishments know this and use it as bait, hence slogans such as “Give your dreams a chance” and “Iko pesa na SportPesa”. A majority of problem gamblers do not seem to realise that betting companies are not charity organisations but businesses, with a model in place calculated to ensure profitability.

There is no question that gambling has brought some economic benefit to the country, such as increased employment, increased tax revenue and such. It is also undisputed that the practice carries with it challenges, chief among them problem gambling, which is responsible for an array of problems ranging from suicide, divorces and drug abuse. This piece will argue that the negative effects of gambling outweigh the positives, and that it is time we seriously considered outlawing the practice.

The problems associated with gambling are well documented. In addition to financial loss, the social and personal impacts are many and immense, as a number of studies have established. This article addresses itself to the negative side of gambling with a view to provoking debate on the matter. It is meant to start, rather than settle the debate.

Financial implications

It is a widely quoted aphorism in gambling circles that “the house always wins”. This can roughly be interpreted to mean that in the long run, betting establishments are the ones that really benefit; the gambler is the loser in the end. The stark truth is that in any case, the odds are always stacked against the gambler, and one stands a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning any lottery!

The most obvious, most apparent adverse effect of gambling is loss of money. As Lesieur HR and R Klein in “Prisoners, Gambling and Crime” (1987) write: “Financial losses pose the most immediate and compelling cost to the gambler in the throes of his or her disorder. As access to money becomes more limited, gamblers often resort to crime to pay debts, appease bookies, maintain appearances and garner more money to gamble.”

Related to the foregoing is yet another drawback to gambling – it distorts the gambler’s view of finances. It has been observed, “As gamblers move from stage to stage, and more and more into the powerful grip of betting, their view of money begins to change. It no longer holds its traditional value as a means of exchange…a way to accomplish goals…a measure of security…a source of freedom…a standard of accomplishment. Instead, money to the gambler has only one value: to enable the gambler to keep gambling, to stay ‘in action’.” This corrupted view of gambling is why problem gamblers may do anything to obtain money to keep gambling – lying, borrowing, even stealing “Problem Gamblers and Their Finances”, Australia’s National Council on Problem Gambling (2000)].

Another study, aimed at calculating the financial cost of problem gambling, established that the effects of gambling on employment, consisting of job change costs, unemployment and productivity loss were estimated at AUD27.8 million (Sh2.1 billion) annually.

Social effects  

Dr Gerda Reith of the University of Glasgow with the Scottish Centre for Social Research (2006) notes that between five and ten people are affected by every individual who is a problem gambler, including spouses, children and other family members, friends, co-workers and employers as well as those involved in financial relationships. The financial stress, lying and arguments that can develop around problem gamblers lead to significant pressure on families, with one in ten Australian problem gamblers saying that their behaviour had led to relationship breakdown, and one in ten of those in counselling admitting it had led to domestic violence. In Australia alone, problem gambling has been found to be responsible for 1600 divorces annually.

The social and personal problems extend further. According to Gerstein DR, “Gambling Impact and Behaviour Study: Report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission” (1999), problem gamblers tend to suffer greater ill health than the general population, including conditions such as depressive moods, insomnia, anxiety, headaches and stomach problems. The Australian productivity commission also shows that 60 per cent of those with gambling problems indicated that they had suffered depression as a result of gambling; around 9pc had considered suicide.

Of all forms of addiction, gambling is linked to the highest number of suicides and attempted suicides. It is no coincidence that Las Vegas, the world’s “gambling capital”, has the highest suicide rates in America.

A moral issue

Gambling is also a moral issue, which explains why in theocracies such as Saudi Arabia, it is banned. Gambling was long considered a vice alongside prostitution, drugs and pornography.

Richard Albert Mohler, one of America’s most influential evangelicals, has the following to say about gambling:  “The entire enterprise of gambling is opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God’s word. The basic impulse behind gambling is greed, a basic sin that is the father of many other evils. Greed, covetousness and avarice are repeatedly addressed by scripture – always presented as a sin against God, and often accompanied by a graphic warning of the destruction, which is the result of greed. The burning desire for earthly riches leads to frustration and spiritual death.”

According to Mohler, gambling encourages laziness, a cardinal sin across all major religions and cultures. “Gambling is a direct attack on the work ethic presented in scripture. One of the constant threads through the old and new testaments is the dignity of honourable work, and the proper reward for labour and industriousness. The worker worthy of hire is rewarded. Lazy, slothful and unproductive persons are undeserving of financial rewards… gambling severs the dignity of work from the hope of financial gain, offering the hope of riches without labour, and reward without dignity… rather than offering genuine hope and a way out of poverty, gambling operators prey on those who are most desperate,” he says.
Another ill associated with gambling is its addictive nature.

Protect the vulnerable

Undisputedly, gambling has its share of benefits to the economy, as well as provides entertainment value to those who take part in it. However, its negative effects must at least be tamed, if not completely eliminated. With the advent of online sports betting, more stringent measures are needed to protect the vulnerable. In this age of smartphones, literally anyone can access a betting site regardless of their age or location. When it becomes an addiction, gambling is a peculiar type – the alcoholic may stay away from pubs and alcohol, the substance that fuels his addiction, but it is difficult, in fact impossible, for a gambling addict to stay away from money and smartphones, tools essential for day-to-day operations. It follows that the state must take deliberate steps to protect its citizens from falling prey to this vice.

Is it time we outlawed gambling?

1 COMMENT

  1. As a student of Economics and Sociology, I strongly believe that gambling should be outlawed. Gambling industry is taking advantage of youth unemployment and desperation of financially starved segment of our Kenyan society to make super profits. I am totally against gambling. Excellent article.

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