In February of 2019, Uganda’s president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the man who’s been running things for the last 35 years, announced a ban on sports betting in Uganda. The ban comes as a response to an ever growing issue the Ugandan public are facing. Gambling addiction.
For years now, issues of gambling addiction and the havoc these many stories have wreaked have occupied Ugandan, and pan-African news outlets alike. The issue certainly is not one that is new, and the response to these widespread issues (in the form of the ban) is one that many would agree is somewhat inevitable.
The ban on sports betting is not an outright, closed and shut ban that was implemented immediately. Rather, the ban has targeted operators, and operator licenses. No new betting operator licenses would be issued, and no betting operator licenses would be renewed, making the very nature of the betting ban one that would see the industry slowly slip away.
Uganda plays host to one of the longest standing gambling regulations in Africa. Legal gambling frameworks began being implemented with the country’s independence, led by Milton Obote in 1962. If we compare that to one of Africa’s leading gambling destinations, both for online betting, and land based gambling, South Africa, we see a 30 year difference in legal framework implementation, which is rather astounding.
The length of time in which gambling has been regulated in Uganda may have a significant role in why so many have fallen victim to the issues that are saddled with the activity. Ugandans have had free access to gambling platforms for decades – but surely this cannot be the only reason.
Other arguments involve socio-political, socio-economic and other factors, however the lesson that is there to be learnt is not what has caused this widespread gambling problem, but rather what the way forward is.
Conservative thinkers would most likely agree that the ban on sports betting implemented by Museveni was the right thing to do, and no doubt, it is the most sensible option for sure. The truth however is that to understand the gambling issue in Uganda, one needs to understand the very nature of addiction.
Rendering something illegal, as history has shown, very rarely is the answer to curb such an issue. To use South Africa as an example again, online gambling in the forms of casino, bingo and poker is outlawed, and offenders could face prison time or incredibly steep fines if they are caught. However the operators that offer such services, outside the bounds of the law, are some of the most popular in the country.
What this proves, is that although the very practice is outlawed, and is saddled with dire consequences, millions of people still go ahead and enjoy what is out there, legal or not.
While betting in Uganda may become prohibited, this might just mean that gambling addicts will turn to illegal outlets, which just puts them at greater risk than registered and licensed ones would.
Overcoming addiction is more than about removing certain things. It’s rather about assistance and rehabilitation. Promoting recovery programmes is what many believe is the best chance to help Ugandans who have lost their way. While a ban on sports betting may be a decent short stop measure, a long lasting solution would be to change the culture of betting in the country, instead of removing it altogether.