Uganda’s finance minister has made the shock announcement that the nation’s gaming market will cease to be upon the expiration of all current licences.
Uganda’s gambling industry is seemingly not long for this world following an
announcement that once all current licences expire there will be no renewals nor no new issuances.
Finance minister David Bahati made the shock statement – on behalf of the president Yoweri Museveni – at a religious gathering in late January and cited growing public concern over gaming practices as the main driver of the decision.
“We have received a directive from President Museveni to stop licensing sports betting, gaming and gambling companies. The President has now directed the board which has been regulating them…. From now onwards, no new companies are going to be licensed. Those which are already registered, no renewal of licences when they expire,” said Bahati.
The decision appears to have been one made with little prior thought, for following Bahati’s announcement even the spokesman for his office, Jim Mugunga, admitted he had no knowledge of the directive, but unsurprisingly agreed with his direct boss nonetheless.
“I don’t know but since it was said by a minister, quote him. That’s good news,” he said.
Considering other parts of the finance and planning committee had no idea that the announcement was to be made it is of little surprise that those in the industry were also none the wiser.
The chairperson of the
National Gaming Board Uganda (NGBU) Manzi Tumubweine said that the federal office had not yet received an official communication, nor even a suggestion, of the decision prior to its public pronouncement.
“I can’t comment on what I don’t know. They say they want to ban full betters, I don’t know how they are going to do it,” he said. “I don’t want to comment on it because I have my views about it.”
For such a far-reaching assertion to be made without prior consultation with players, operators or even regulators seems profoundly unwise.
At last count the NGBU had approved 20 casino licences, 40 general betting licences and 15 slot machine licences, all of which now face an unsure future at best and no future at worst.
Operator of Betway in Kampala, Samuel Mutekanga commented on the unwelcome surprise.
“The directive is not only a surprise but shocking. It is a danger to our investment. Were we consulted? No. How can such a ban come in a pedestrian way? Where does it leave the money we have invested?”
Patrick Lubaale, of Galz Bettin, again in Kampala, was similarly unenthused about the seemingly off-the-cuff decision to scuttle what is a robust, well-established industry.
“If the president is complaining about the negative effects on young people, we have already been sensitising the public about the irresponsible betting and people are aware about this, but this should not be reason to ban the trade,” he said.
The year gone had seemed like a step in the right direction for the Ugandan gaming market, with the national gambling board moving to construct a central monitor- ing system as means to regulate player behaviour and as recently as October issuing formal invitation for new licence applications.
There are believed to be some 2,000 active operators working under the frame- work established in the National lotteries and Gaming and Pool Betting acts and it had been suggested that enhanced player monitoring would lead to an increase in revenue taxation payments from a sector projected to be worth $14m in the 2019/20 fiscal year.
The monitoring measure was hoped would weed out illegal operations and improve public perception of gaming but such would appear to have been deemed as unsatisfactory by the president.
Foregoing all gaming revenue payments seems incomprehensible given that it was recently announced that debt repayments will take up 34 percent of the nation’s entire budget this year, a patently unsustainable situation – even more so when under- stood that the second largest part of budgetary spending will be the 11.4 percent allocated to financing repayments of the above debts.
The hope at this point is that there will be a period wherein a full analysis of Ugandan gaming is carried out and the clear and present benefit of maintaining its relative good health is fully understood, lest the face realise all to late what happens when it foregoes its nose.