Betting or gambling is not much of a new phenomenon. People have betted for over centuries. Elsewhere, especially the West, this is an established culture. However, the danger is that it can be addictive and has led to people losing all their wealth leaving them into destitution. Recently in Malawi, betting has taken root and every day, one is likely to see multitudes betting. However, there is a danger. Children under 18 years are getting into the habit at a worrisome speed. Some even abscond classes in search of fast cash. JUSTIN MKWEU, went deeper to find out the extent of the problem.
It is around 10 o’clock in the morning in the populous Ndirande Township in Blantyre. Even though it is a Monday, most school-going children are home as schools have been closed following President Peter Mutharika’s declaration of coronavirus as a national disaster.
A Form One student, Chisomo, leaves his home after informing his sister that he is visiting his friends within the township.
He is 16 years old and goes to a private school within the location.
After visiting his friends, they proceed to a Premier Bet shop where he spends K900 on betting. His favourite game is ‘spin’ and on this day, he is returning home without any money, having lost everything to betting.
Chisomo reveals that this is not the first time for him to be involved in gambling. He regularly visits the shop to play the ‘money games’, especially during weekends when he is not at school.
“I bet on Saturdays and Sundays because from Monday to Friday I am always at school. I also bet on holidays or whenever school is not in session like now when our schools are closed,” he narrates.
Chisomo relies on his parents for survival. He does not have any means of making his own money.
He says his parents give him money for meals at school and that it is that money which he uses for betting.
Chisomo is an example of several other children below the age of 18 years who are deep into the betting business.
Malawi’s Gaming Act prohibits any individual who is below 18 to engage in any kind of gambling.
But our spot-checks in various betting points in the country reveal that children as young as 12 years old engage in the activities with little or no control at all.
Last year, the Gaming Board warned that it would fine or revoke licences of betting companies that allow children in their shops.
We have not heard of any such action so far.
Most children who are into the gambling business do that without the knowledge of their parents. Some even use money which their parents give them to use for buying groceries and other household items.
Child rights activist Esmie Tembenu states that underage betting has no room in the country as it has the capability of jeopardising the future of the children.
Tembenu says when children are addicted to gambling, they sometimes abandon classes and resort to stealing money from their parents, guardians and other people.
“If you look at the betting shops, there are a lot of people there from whom the children can learn a lot of things including beer drinking and other immoral behaviours,” Tembenu says.
She appeals to the Ministry of Gender, Child Development and Community Development and the Gaming Board to pull up their socks and fight the practice which she describes as a ticking bomb “which will be hard to contain”.
In some countries, betting companies have been closed for violating regulations that govern the industry.
In February last year, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni announced that the country would no longer be issuing licenses to betting companies and that those with expired licenses would not have them renewed.
Museveni was hopeful that this would end betting in his country which he said had highly impacted lives of youths who had substituted concentration at school with gambling.
Countries such as Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan have taken similar steps with the aim of protecting children from exploitation.
When contacted for a comment on incidents of children involved in betting, Malawi Gaming Board Chief Executive Officer, Billy Banda, said the law is clear that such cases are illegal.
He indicated that cases of underage betting had been noted in the past but “there is no evidence that the practice is continuing”.
Banda added that his institution will punish betting companies that flout laid-down regulations that govern their business.
“Whether it is in shops or online, if they flout the laws, actions will be taken against them. The law is clear about that and they are aware of it,” he said.
But one clear thing is dozens of people have won millions of kwacha after placing bets with Premier Bet and this entices others, including children, to try their luck.
Premier Bet Chief Executive Officer, Miles Jovanic, told The Daily Times that the company provides trainings to cashiers before they start working with it and sensitises the public on responsible gambling.
He said the trainings include information that individuals below 18 years old are not allowed to bet or enter Premier Bet shops.
Still, Jovanic admitted that there have been some cases of underage betting which they have dealt with and that they are not aware of any other new case.
He said: “We are not supporting that kind of activity and our cashiers are aware that this is a major misconduct, so when we find out that they are allowing children to bet, we have heavy sanctions for them. We take seriously reports about underage betting.”
Child rights activists warn that children who become addicted to betting may later become difficult to control and that they are likely to engage in criminal activities to find money.
And the Malawi Gaming Board states on its website that gambling should be for leisure and entertainment.
“Although problem gambling has not been a concern amongst our people, it is reasonable to assume that as the gaming industry grows and advances, it brings about both good and adverse impacts. The gaming law clearly prohibits participation of children in gaming activities. Equally, the remaining part of our society requires protection against irresponsible gambling,” the board says.
But, it is clear that in Malawi—and of course, several other countries— gambling is pursued as an instant money making venture which, when it fails, leaves those involved in it in the depths of despair.
Justin Mkweu is a fast growing reporter who currently works with Times Group on the business desk.
He is however flexible as he also writes about current affairs and national issues.