Gambling fever spreads among Ugandan youth

Friday May 18 2012

The entertainment room at the Casino Grande, which was renamed Caesars Palace Casino.  Pictures: Morgan Mbabazi

The entertainment room at the Casino Grande, which was renamed Caesars Palace Casino. Pictures: Morgan Mbabazi 

It is now one year since 21-year-old Charles Mudang’a, a student at Makerere University, started placing bets on football match results.

And now the first year student, pursuing a Bachelor of Business Statistics can boast of buying a two-acre piece of land in Sironko District in eastern Uganda and paying tuition fees for his second semester at the university.

“One day, I predicted right and got Ush1.2 million ($476) after risking Ush200,000 ($75), which was part of my tuition fees,” said Mr Mudang’a.

“After a few days, I bet again, this time putting up Ush500,000 ($200) and that is when I won Ush1.5 million ($600) and bought the plot.”

Mudang’a, now addicted to sports betting, says he is not ready to abandon gambling because it has sustained him in school and enabled him to own property.

However, Mudang’a is not the only student involved in gambling. Thousands of young people mainly boda boda riders, taxi drivers, and students are getting involved in gambling as a way of making money.

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The sports gambling shops in Kampala are always a bee hive of activity with young people perusing fixtures pinned on doors and boards and others collecting their winnings.

Sociologists worry that these young people have become addicted to gambling, relying on it as their main source of income.

“At the moment, many people, especially the youth have embarked on gambling rather than working because they want quick money,” said Lawrence Bategeka, a research fellow at Makerere University Economic Policy Research Centre.

Gambling, once used to be an activity for the rich, but football betting has exploded within the past five years. The country currently has nine betting firms and others expanding into the East African region.

Chief executive officer of Royal Sports Betting Zaheen Nathani said gambling in Uganda has gained ground because of its many sports fans.

“When we set up shop three years ago, things were not that good because people didn’t know what we were offering,” said Mr Nathani. “But as I talk now, the firm has grown and we have more than 1,000 clients.”

Mr Nathani said the firm started with just one branch in Kampala but has expanded to the entire city and into other towns in the country including Masaka, Mbarara, and Mbale.

Sports Betting Africa commercial officer Michael Galabuzi said the firm, which is already operating in Tanzania, plans to expand into the other East African countries.

“Our expansion plans will largely depend on how fast these countries grant us licences,” said Mr Galabuzi.

Gaming International, which opened its doors in Uganda in 2009, set up shop in Kenya last year as part of its expansion drive, aimed at tapping into the region’s sporting activities.

Though gambling firms have decided to regulate themselves, the country’s Private Sector Foundation says there’s a need for an independent regulator to determine the capital inflow and outflow as majority of the firms are foreign-owned.

Mr Badagawa said the private sector does not support gambling as it is likely to weaken the economy.

Bank of Uganda spokesperson Dr Jan Tibamwenda said the country’s biggest bank only regulates institutions that keep customers’ deposits.