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Revised Nairobi gambling laws a step closer to reality 

Over the past five years or so, there has been a global trend towards changing attitudes and relaxing rules where gambling is concerned. The Nairobi City County Betting, Lotteries and Gaming (Amendment) Bill, 2021, however, which passed its second reading last month, represents a step in the opposite direction and if it comes into force will make gambling activities less accessible to the average citizen.  

Discouraging young people from gambling 

The bill has been sponsored by South B Ward Representative Waithera Chege, who says that making gambling less accessible is exactly what it is all about. Ms Chege cited a 2017 study that showed Kenya to have more young people gambling than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Specifically, the study showed that more than 75 percent of Kenyans regularly place bets and the majority of these gamblers are under 35 years old. This is in stark contrast to, for example, the USA, where only 18 percent are under 35 and almost two thirds of gamblers are over 50. 

What are the new rules?  

The changes that will come about if the bill is passed into law will be wide-reaching. Most controversial is the restriction of gambling to five-star hotels. The idea here is for casino games to be mostly accessible to those with deep pockets and money they can afford to lose. That, however, is only the beginning.  

The new rules will also set down strict licensing hours, meaning the casinos can only operate between 8PM and 6AM. Ms Chege claims that at present, too many Kenyans spend what should be productive hours gambling. These licensing hours will apply to online as well as physical gambling establishments, and operators breaking the rules will expose themselves to a possible four-year prison sentence. 

In addition, there will be restrictions on TV advertising, with none allowed before the 8PM watershed. The current USSD betting codes, which are constantly being promoted on local radio stations will be brought to an end. Waithaka Representative Anthony Karanja says that these measure do nothing more than bring Kenya’s gambling regulations into line with other countries around the world and are long overdue.  

Implementation 

Implementing the new rules, especially those relating to operating hours, will be one thing for land based casinos but could prove practically impossible to implement for online platforms. Casinos in cyberspace have no concept of international boundaries, and there’s theoretically nothing to stop a gambler in Kenya from visiting the best online casino in Canada or the UK or anywhere else on the planet. 

Mr Karanja spoke of ‘blocking all unlicensed gambling sites,” but this is a road that other nations have followed with very little success. Regulators can end up wasting their own productive time in what becomes an exercise in futility – block one site, and two more appear within minutes.  

Nevertheless, while implementation might need fine tuning, the spirit of the bill is to educate and to discourage harmful and unhealthy gambling. That is something that everyone can get behind. 

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