Shops across suburbs of Kampala and other small towns in Uganda have now a new object of attraction; The Pocker Box or Roullette. The portable gambling machine is controlled mostly by Chinese nationals who have infiltrated villages and conquered the minds of young and old people alike with the power of an addiction.
The popular machines have started to worry parents and other moralists that they are eroding the morals of society particularly the children, corrupting their work and saving ethics and possibly causing them to steal money so as to get cash to take to the machines.
Eriya Muyomba, a middle-aged parent of three primary level kids and a resident of Miseebe in Bulera sub-county, Mityana district, worries that the machines will spoil his children.
He says: “The [Pocker boxes] are in every small town these days, but they are terrible. They have spoiled our kids. Every coin they get ends up in the machines. All the children think about now is gambling. Even grown up men now deny their families’ sugar and squander the money in gambling.”
The effect of gambling, particularly the Chinese machines that are strategically dangled in front of poor people in villages have led some to wonder whether the government should continue to allow them (the machines) in the midst of vulnerable and desperately poor people.
Aside from the Pocker box, many unemployed young men in Kampala and other towns of Uganda, spend valuable time and scarce resources betting on the possible results of European football clubs.
Some people including us at The Sunrise warned of the possible dangers that arise if the gambling boxes were allowed to reach the illiterate and ignorant masses of Uganda’s villages. Government authorities, perhaps because of the allure of taxes paid by the peddlers of the gambling machines, still hesitate to regulate them.
Religious leaders from different faiths have condemned betting in Uganda saying it has destroyed the work ethic of young people and corrupted the morals of society.
Kibuli-based Supreme Mufti Sheikh Sulaiman Kasule Ndirangwa told The Sunrise that betting is contributing to the country’s under development by taking away even the little from the hands of the poor.
Sheikh Ndirangwa urged the government to bring an end to the betting business altogether.
“Government has no business keeping betting companies in Uganda any more. Let them (government) abolish all forms of gambling and send betting companies home. ”
“Sadly, gambling thrives on hoodwinking our desperate people into hopping for big gains only to lose even the little they have, perpetuating poverty in our society,” said Ndirangwa, adding that apart from the fact that gambling is forbidden in Islam, it is also an abomination and a cancer in Ugandan society.
Echoing Ndirangwa, City of the of the Lord Church Pastor Godfrey Luwagga who doubles as Kawempe Division Councilor expressed concern at the way betting companies and individuals are robbing Ugandans dry.
He says that legalizing gambling especially sports betting under the pretext of collecting taxes, government short itself in the foot since it is reducing the country’s work force with many able-bodied men and women who squander quality time gambling away at cafes, pubs, betting centres and slot machines.
“The biggest reason why poor people are poor is because they don’t work and are always in want of quick gains. Exposing them to gambling is making the situation even worse as it will push them deeper into poverty,” says Luwagga.
Monseigneur Wynand Katende, the Spokesperson of the Catholic church didn’t mince his words either when asked about the impact of gambling on Uganda’s society.
Fr. Katende describes gambling as an evil trade.
” The only way of keeping our people away from the risk of accessing gambling lies in abolishing gambling itself,” Katende adds: “In fact, if we had a government that listens to the concerns of its citizens, betting should have been abolished long ago because we have shouted our voices hoarse condemning the practice but in vain.”
Katende challenges Ugandan leaders to borrow a leaf from developed countries like the United States of America which he says confined gambling to particular areas such as Les Vegas where they ensure people below a certain level of wealth are strictly prohibited from accessing it.
Makerere University Community Imam Iddi Kasozi particularly blames government for what he called closing its eyes until its effects have reached the depths of society in the villages. Imam Kasozi says that gambling is now felt in the remotest areas of Uganda where the poorest and most vulnerable of Ugandans live.
“I have always gone to my village where I do farming and feel sorry for my country. I watch with pity young men and women aged 15-40 jostling around centers of gambling,” Kasozi said.
Imam Kasozi argues however that the central government is unlikely to address the gambling challenges. Instead he argues local governments across the country to pass by-laws restricting gambling in villages.
Referring to local government leaders, Imam Kasozi says: “Why are they not legislating bylaws restraining citizens in their localities from engaging in gambling? The sooner they do that, the better for this country,” he added.
A boda boda rider in Nakulabye who prefered anonymity informed this reporter that most of his friends, especially those who pry their trade at night, spend all their hard earned money on gambling, many he says, who have lost their cycles owing to betting have relocated to their villages or become members of gangs which terrorise Kampala and its surburbs day and night.
The apparent silence from government on the socially destabilizing effect of gambling in Uganda is poised to grow rather than reduce.
This comes from the fact that Sports Betting companies are now trying to diversify their line of business by introducing new forms of gambling, according to findings by The Sunrise.
Phiona Mbabazi, an attendant at Lucky Sports betting on Platinum House in Kampala revealed that a number of companies are now introducing alternative games that ensure their customers keep busy even when there are no games being played.
She told The Sunrise that a number of companies now have Pocker boxes and virtual machines playing on slot machines where their clients can play with as little as Ushs500.
Civil society organization leaders have also weighed in on the fight against gambling which they say has sent this country to the dogs “under the watchful eye of weak leaders”. Frank Gashumba of Sisimuka Uganda puts the blame on parents whom he accuses of laxity in observing morals while upbringing their children.
“An 18 year old in china becomes a doctor, a 16 year old in Brazil becomes a soccer star, a 17 year old in Japan becomes a manager of a huge business company and a 16 year old in Israel becomes a cleric but sadly, a 28 year old in Uganda becomes a specialist giving tips on sports betting and other forms of gambling!” Gashumba says