What you need to know:
- Opinion is divided about gambling, which has proved to be a money-spinner for the government and some operators, but a source of grief for others
Dar es Salaam. Which way gambling? That is the billion-shilling question.
Opinion is divided about gambling, which has proved to be a money-spinner for the government and some operators, but a source of grief for others.
The Gaming Board of Tanzania (GBT) told The Citizen recently that income from the gaming sub-sector increased to Sh140 billion during the 2021/22 financial year from Sh132 billion recorded in the previous year.
GBT director general James Mbalwe attributed the increase to strict enforcement of rules and regulations governing gambling.
“There are strategies in place in the current financial year to increase revenue by fighting illegal slot machines and online gambling, which are holding back growth,” he said.
The Citizen understands that the sub-sector has created at least 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Mr Mbalwe said GBT was conducting various campaigns to ensure that people, particularly youth, bet responsibly.
However, despite being highly addictive, betting is now being promoted left, right and centre, with almost all radio stations in Tanzania either having their own gambling operations, or publicising gambling through paid-for advertisements.
With gambling being on the airwaves around the clock, it is hardly surprising that a sizeable part of the populace now believes that this is the easiest way of making money. Most radio station now persuade their listeners to part with “only Sh1,000” and stand a chance to win hundreds of thousands, or, in some cases, millions of shillings.
The “winners” are often given airtime to explain how happy they are and convince other listeners to jump on the bandwagon, but stories of people like Adam Mpambula*, whose lives have been ruined by gambling, are kept firmly under wraps.
Adam had to shut his pub after gambling away his entire capital. He began gambling in Mlele District, Katavi Region, in 2019 when he was 30 years old.
He says there were slot machines at the pub, which attracted large numbers of youth every day.
“I was betting too. My employees were betting as well. That is why my business collapsed only eight months after it was opened.
“At first, I felt I was in control, but as the days went by, it became an addiction. I tried to kick the habit, but to no avail…I was hooked,” Adam says. Not surprisingly, his capital went down the drain and he had no choice but to close the business.
He recalls winning Sh1.8 million at once last year, and the belief that he could pocket even bigger winnings meant that he continued to gamble.
“The amount that I won was much more than the average monthly net earnings from my business. I believed that I could win even bigger amounts, and gambling wiped out my capital and savings as a result,” says Adam.
According to various studies, gambling affects people in various age groups, from children as young as 10 to senior citizens.
Goodluck Lutufyo*, 32, says you can lose more than just your money through betting. Your health is also on the line.
He recalls missing out on a Sh300 million jackpot after incorrectly predicting the results of four of the 13 teams he bet on.
“The psychological impact was too much. I swore that I wouldn’t bet again, but I’m still struggling. This thing is evil. Instead of sending your mother Sh5,000 back home, or buying food, you gamble the money away,” says Goodluck, a resident of Mbarali District in Mbeya Region.
However, 29-year old Boniface Johnstone*, who began being involved in sports betting at the age of 21, says betting is leisure.
“I’m not addicted. I do it responsibly, considering the fact that I have a family that depends on me,” he says
Boniface, who is married with one child, says he has won more than he has lost in gambling, with Sh600,000 being the biggest amount he has bagged so far when he bet on eight teams for Sh500 three years ago.
“With that money, I bought a bed, mattress and mobile phone,” he says, adding that his brother bought a bajaj after winning Sh9 million.
Boniface says, however, that quitting gambling has proved to be an uphill task due to the company he keeps.
“If ten out of my ten friends are involved in betting, it is obviously difficult to kick the habit.”
An economist from Mzumbe University, Prof Aurelia Kamuzora, says betting should be viewed as a positive force for economic development instead of a social problem.
“Betting stimulates money circulation…betting companies need to re-invest the money they earn for the activity to make economic sense,” she says.
Dr Lutengano Mwinuka of the University of Dodoma says betting has advantages and disadvantages.
It is a source of government revenue, he says, but a major downside is that it breeds a lazy society, with the majority thinking they can become rich through betting.
“Advantages are fewer than disadvantages. The government should consider imposing more taxes on betting in order to discourage people from gambling,” adds Dr Mwinuka.
But Mr Mbalwe says betting should be considered an ethically neutral form of entertainment.
Veteran journalist Jenerali Ulimwengu is on record saying it is unfortunate that a growing number of youths are not ready to work hard to earn money, and instead opt for shortcuts such as gambling.
“No one has ever become rich through gambling,” he says, adding that elsewhere, it is the super-rich who gamble. “Gambling serves as a safety valve for tensions felt by individuals with lots of money that make them feel insecure.”
Bishop Alex Malasusa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania says gambling must not be entertained.
He argues that the majority of youth are no longer looking for jobs, and think they can become rich through gambling.
“Come to think of it. With this trend, what kind of generation we will have in, say, 20 to 50 years?”
“Despite the fact that the government is getting revenue, we need to look at this issue critically,” says Dr Malasusa.
But Finance and Planning permanent secretary Emmanuel Tutuba says betting is a game like any other, and that is why it is legal almost across the entire globe.
“It’s a game in which a person uses their brain. If one wins, they get money that can be re-invested. If they lose, the betting company gets money that can be re-invested,” he says.
“Whether betting is good or bad is all rooted in perception. It’s like boxing or beauty contests, which some people view as good, while others see them as bad.”
(*Names have been changed to protect identities)