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Betting in Uganda: Is there a better way moving forward?

Betting in Uganda faces a huge problem. The business of bookmaking is under serious threat, as the nation has fallen into a pit of uncontrolled gambling issues that have ravaged the lives of youth chief amongst all. With an imminent ban on sports betting pending, one can only ask whether this is the right move moving forward. 

It is no surprise that such a drastic move has been thought up, as the issue of problem gambling in Uganda is not one that is new. Stories of gambling problems have been occupying media outlets for years now, and it was inevitable that the government was going to take some form of action. Few however, were expecting a move so drastic. 

The decision, taken a staggering two years ago, is one that will not come into immediate effect, but rather one that will be rolled out over time. The specific nature of the sports betting ban did not involve an outright sports betting shutdown, but rather a ban targeting operator licenses. 

No new operators would be granted licenses in Uganda, and when operators’ existing licenses begin to expire, none of them will receive license extensions, making the prospective ban one that will slowly shut out Uganda’s sports betting scene. 

Many have argued that this is the right move. And for understandable reasons. The most logical plan of attack when facing a problem of this nature is to address it at its source. But is it the approach that is most likely to work? Some might argue otherwise. 

If we look at South Africa for example, a nationwide law against online gambling has been in effect since all forms of gambling began to move into cyberspace. Yet South Africa is home to a vibrant and booming online gambling industry, all done outside of the bounds of the law. 

The only form of legal online gambling is through licensed and regulated betting sites, but that hasn’t stopped eager gamblers from risking their freedoms to engage in online gambling. Thousands of people search for online gambling portals every month, and do so without the protection of the law in their corner. Quite the opposite in fact. 

In South African the punishment for online gamblers, the banks that oversee the transactions of winnings, and the operators themselves is 10 years in prison, or a fine of ZAR10 million, which equates to 2575562592,00 Ugandan shillings. A crazy amount to risk paying for the quick thrill of online gambling. 

What this case study does demonstrate however, is that where there’s a will there’s a way. The answer to gambling addiction is not rendering a gambling industry illegal. The answer to gambling addiction is rehabilitation. 

If we were to draw another example, we can take a look at the world of drugs. There aren’t too many places in the world that allow the free movement and distribution of narcotics, however, this still occurs outside the bounds of the law. The same is inevitable for outlawed gambling destinations in Uganda. 

It’s clear that Uganda house a severe gambling problem, however the answer to this issue is not shutting down an online betting industry, it is making available the resources for affected parties to rehabilitate themselves. A ban may have good intentions, but it may simply push addicts to illegal, unprotected portals, where they face greater risks of losing money among other serious issues.  

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