Hefty penalties needed to tame gambling mess

Gambling is a massive industry, which commands mind-boggling sums of money, but it is also addictive, with potentially devastating consequences for those involved.

To some Kenyans, however, this has almost become a daily routine just like any other job.

A record Sh88 billion was placed on online bets in the full year to June, defying a government crackdown and punitive taxes.

It has been quite good for the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), which raked in Sh6.6 billion in excise taxes alone. The money was paid by gaming firms from a new 7.5 per cent tax.

The Sh242 million placed daily on bets, Sh10.1 million hourly, Sh168,333 every minute or Sh2,806 every second underscore the transformation of gambling from a hobby into a full-time business enterprise.

But it comes with its adversities such as depression, anxiety, heart illnesses and ulcers. Gambling causes financial losses, bankruptcy, joblessness, homelessness, and mental health conditions, leading to suicides, and breakdowns in relationships.

It has lately been fuelled by the widespread availability of mobile phones and money transfer services, aggressive marketing and advertising. The allure of easy money has landed many into heavy debts and mental disorders.

A Bill to control the gambling craze is welcome. There is a need to regulate the business and protect Kenyans.

A 15 per cent monthly tax on betting revenue and fines of up to Sh20 million for violations, including failure to pay winners, are among the hefty penalties proposed in a Bill to regulate gambling.

If passed, the Gambling Control Bill 2023 to replace the current Betting, Control, and Licensing Board (BCLB), will be a step in the right direction. It is also meant to protect children from potential harm through a huge Sh1 million fine, imprisonment for a year or both.

Betting has ruined lives, as the proliferation of illegal gambling businesses has left families broke, deeply in debt and, in extreme cases, resulting in suicides.

More taxation and hefty fines for betting firms are needed to protect gamblers and their families. Unregulated gambling can wreck lives, hence the urgent need for stricter controls.