GAMBIANS & ILLEGAL BETTING

485

By Yankuba Jallow

Gambians are not allowed by law to do gambling at the Casinos. The Betting and Gaming Act makes it an offence for a Gambian to gamble. The Gambia has laws governing the establishment and operation of casinos and betting centres, but the laws are not enforced.

If a Gambian is caught gambling at casinos and taken to court, if found guilty by a court, the person will pay a fine of One Thousand Dalasi (D1,000) or imprisonment of not more than two years. The court could choose to fine the person and also jail the offender. If the offender is the casino owner or proprietor, the person will pay a fine of Two Thousand Dalasi (D2,000) or imprisonment of not more than two (2) years. The court can ask the person to pay the fine and then send him to jail.

The reporter inquired from the clerks of the magistrate’s courts in the townships including Kanifing, Bundung, Banjul and Brikama regarding the cases relating to betting companies or casinos. He was informed that they do not have such cases. The clerks said they do not remember any case in their career relating to the prosecution of a person, a betting company or casino, or their owners.

This shows how the law, which seeks to protect the citizens, is being ignored as if there is no regulation for betting or gambling. The lack of prosecution, according to a lawyer working for the Government, is an indication that there is no interest to enforce this law.

This story seeks to expose the weaknesses of the Government in enforcing the laws of the land concerning the operations of casinos and other betting centres. It also shows the mentality of the people towards betting, which has gained momentum among Gambian youths. Betting is regulated by law. The story would show why there is a rise in children (including school children), women and youth betting.

The Betting and Gaming Act was enacted through Act 16 of 1973 under the First Republic. It repealed and replaced the Casino Licensing Act of 1971. The date of commencement of the Act was 24 August 1973. It was amended only three times – 1974, 1980 and 1986. It is still the law governing the operation of casinos and betting companies. The purpose of the Act is to make provision for the control of betting and connected matters.

There are many Casinos in the Gambia and they are allowing Gambians to engage in gambling despite the prohibition by law. The law requires the casino owners to take appropriate measures, including demanding identity papers, to prevent Gambian citizens from gambling at the casinos. The law makes it mandatory for casino owners to put up notices in a conspicuous place at the entrance of every casino.

“For me, I will continue to bet. I do both – casino and sports betting. Let the Government find us jobs to be because we are living in a hopeless society. I have not been winning in the casinos and now my focus is more on sports betting. If I get something better to do, I will stop the betting but you cannot tell me that it is wrong for a Gambian to gamble. Where are the jobs?” Lamin Bah, a bettor in Kololi said.

“I did not choose to be a bettor. I did not go to school and I have spent the greatest part of my life on the beaches trying to get a white woman to marry and take me abroad. The beach is no more as it used to be and now I do gambling. All my life I want to get rich and take my family out of poverty. I have been gambling for 7 years and I still did not see anything that will stop me,” Alagie Sey, a bettor said.

There is a casino now in Serrekunda inside the residential areas. The reporter observed that many people would come there daily, especially in the evening to gamble. He spoke to some of them as to why they gamble. The reporter spoke to at least 26 gamblers who go to casinos. Their answer to the question of why they gamble was because of the lack of economic opportunities. They want to make money and get rich through the casinos.

License for Casino

The law gives the Minister the power to authorise a person to establish and operate a casino in The Gambia. The Betting and Gaming Act provides that nothing in the Criminal Code applies to the casinos. This means the only law that applies to the casinos is the Betting and Gaming Act. The minister has the power to develop regulations and terms for the license. Licenses to operate casinos are renewable every twelve (12) months.

Section 8 of the Betting and Gaming Act provides that the casinos shall furnish the Minister with information relating to the operation of the casino to ensure due compliance with the license. The law requires the casinos to supply the information to the Minister within the first three (3) after the commencement of the license.

The reporter followed the Ministry from October 2023 to the date of publication to get the Minister for an interview on the matter, but all requests were not granted. He wrote three (3) letters and also went to the Ministry seven (7) times, but the Ministry would not respond to the requests. The reporter also wrote to request the information that the Casinos furnished the Minister regarding their compliance, but the requests were not responded to.

Two senior employees of the Ministry confided with the reporter that the Ministry is not providing oversight over the casinos. Thus, they have not been receiving any information from the casino operators.

“I wonder who is observing the casinos. Of course, it is not our Ministry. I just found out about this law today when you [the reporter] saw me. This is a serious lapse. I will discuss this with my PS [Permanent Secretary]. I am sorry we do not have such records here,” a top official of the Ministry said.

Another senior official said they do not know about this law.

“I am sure the Minister is not familiar with this particular law. We are all not familiar with this. I think the Casinos are dealing with the Ministry of Justice where they register and then GRA [the Gambia Revenue Authority] to pay their taxes. I have been here for over a decade now but I have never seen or heard about this. Maybe, the casinos are paying renewal fees for their license. However, I am sure the Ministry is not monitoring their compliance with the license,” another top official said.

One may think that the menace only affects the casinos, but it extends to the sports betting centres. There are betting centres countrywide. In the townships, there are agents with machines receiving deposits from people and also printing out tickets. All betting centres have now introduced mobile apps and websites where people can do their betting online. The person only needs to make deposits with the agents and get codes to use online to play tickets.

The reporter discovered that the casinos and betting centres are allowed to operate in the Gambia without any serious oversight or monitoring. There is a rise in illegal betting or gambling in the Gambia where children, who have access to smartphones, now engage in betting.

“Some children use the mobile phones of their parents to bet,” an agent in Serrekunda said.

“I have been printing for children. I cannot deny that fact. If we do not print for them then we won’t make money. This is because some of the parents send their children to make deposits and take the codes to them. Some children also use the opportunity to get the codes for themselves. If you want to stop children betting then it should start with their parents,” a betting agent said, adding that she has been in the business for over 4 years.

“How can we stop the children when it is their parents or brothers sending them to deposit and take the codes to them? If you do not print for them you won’t make money. For me, I cannot stop it. We have to print for them,” another bet agent in Tallinding said.

The agents the reporter interviewed all indicated that they know about the law governing children’s betting and that no one should be allowed to bet who is less than 18. However, they said they are doing it to maintain their customers and make money.

Betting used to be a male-dominated sector until recently when the number of women engaged in betting spurred rapidly. The introduction of online betting makes it easy for any person to do betting. Betting is as cheap as Ten Dalasi (D10) using the online version while the manual betting method costs as little as Twenty Dalasi (D20).

We are heading toward the African Football Cup of Nations, a time of joy and anticipation for most football bet stars.

“My target is to make at least Fifty Thousand Dalasi (D50,000) in the AfCON. I have started the predictions and waiting for the time to play the tickets. I want to be rich and I am hopeful that I will be winning,” Lamin Bah, a bet player said.

Many Gambians and non-Gambians residing in Gambia are addicted to betting. Betting as bad as it is has become a centre of attraction for street vendors and other women at home.

“At first it was not easy to see ladies play bet in the Gambia, but now, they are coming in their numbers. I have been playing tickets for some of the women because they do not know how to play it. The number is growing. Betting is no more for only men,” Alagie Sey, a 32-year-old found playing for two women said.

All the major streets in the townships have agents with their machines to play tickets for bettors and receive deposits from the people who play using the online system. Casinos are now stationed in residential. There are so many agents in the markets thereby making them accessible to women.

Since the change of regime in January 2017, the number of betting companies has spurred. The reporter wrote to the Ministry of Justice to provide data for the number of companies registered as betting companies or casinos, but the response from the Ministry was that their system does not have the means to filter the companies and provide the list and details of the companies. Foroyaa cannot independently state the number of casinos and other betting companies in the country.

There are betting centers everywhere in the townships and they also have agents countrywide. Economists, including those working in the Gambia, who spoke to Foroyaa about the issue expressed concerns over the impact of the menace on the young people.

“It makes the young people lazy thinking they will become a millionaire. If you understand how the betting system is set up, they will only make millions from the people while the people become poorer and poorer. It is simply an addiction and cannot change the lives of the young people,” an economist in the Government said.

Women Betting

There are so many women engaged in betting or gambling. They include women at home and street vendors. Most of them have now installed the betting apps on their mobile phones. Some of them can play for themselves while others give it to other players, mainly men, to play for them. Most of them play tickets on their way from the market.

“I gamble online. I began betting after my colleague vendor in the market won One Thousand Five Hundred Dalasi (D1500) in 2022. I was enticed and I began betting. I have been winning but my aim is now to win Fifty Thousand Dalasi to start up a business and leave street vending,” said Isatou Conteh, a street vendor in Serrekunda.

“I have been winning and some of my fellow vendors have been winning, too. I used to have a boy who played for me, but now I can do it. There are vendors everywhere in the market,” Binta Sanyang, also a street vendor said.

“I will continue to bet because my target is to get at least Fifty Thousand Dalasi (D50,000). I play Twenty Dalasi (D20) tickets every day. I right now have saved Six Thousand Five Hundred Dalasi (D6500) in the house all from betting. It may take a long time, but I must get my target,” a vendor from Tanji said.

At the Bakoteh Fish Market, like Serrekunda and Latrikunda Markets, so many women also play bet. The reporter saw them play bet.

The reporter spoke to 57 street vendors in Serrekunda who all confirmed that they play bet and they have shown him tickets. He also spoke to 32 women in other communities like Kanifing, Kololi, Manjai, Tallinding, Bakau and other areas who all said they play bet. The other 16 he spoke to were reluctant to talk about it. Though the reporter saw them play tickets from the street agents.

Women’s betting goes beyond street vendors. There are so many others in the homes doing betting. The reporter spoke to some betting agents who confirmed to him that the number of women bettors is on the rise. The agents said they print tickets for so many women in a day.

“Every day, I print tickets for more than 30 women,” a betting agent in Serrekunda said, who said she did not want to be mentioned.

“For me, I have so many women who have my contact and they will call me to print tickets for them or credit money into their account [online betting], and when I close from work, I pass by their homes to collect my money,” another bet agent.

The reporter spoke to agents in the market and those in the streets. He also interviewed many agents in other communities like Bundung, Sukuta, Latrikunda Sabiji and German, London Corner, Bakoteh, Manjai, Kotu, Kanifing, Kololi, Brikama, Lamin, Brusubi and Coastal Road among many other places. He interviewed 64 agents in total and they all said they could not say whether the number of male bettors was more than the women. They all confirmed that they play daily for women and men.

“It would be wrong to say the male bettors are more than the women. I play for so many women. It will be difficult to judge because the women are in their houses and playing online. Most of the women will play when coming from the market. Some of them would send their children to come and do the deposits for them while they are at home. I know the number of women is high,” an agent in Latrikunda Sabiji said.

“The women are playing bet. Some of them play two to three tickets a day. Some of the women play online using the app or the website. They have their accounts. See, most of the agents in the street are women and we all have our accounts and we play matches like the others. No one should underestimate the number of women engaged in betting. They are coming and it is on the rise,” a betting agent in Kanifing said.

Other agents made similar comments. They all said some of the women do not know how to play and they have male friends helping them to play.

The reason for not mentioning the names of the agents is that they said they are not allowed to speak to the media based on the business interest of their principals.

YOUTH BETTING

There is no survey done to know the number of people engaged in betting in the Gambia. However, the reporter went to several bet centres and observed that those centres are opened at 9 am and close at around 10 pm. During this period, on a daily basis, the centres would be filled with people playing the different sports

Many people including the elderly and market women have turned into bet stars in the Gambia. They have different reasons for betting, but their ultimate desire is to become rich.

Many young people in The Gambia are engaged in the business of sports betting. A good number of non-Gambians are also engaged in betting. Interestingly, so many market women are bettors.

Betting is seen as a life-changing venture by the youth engaged in betting. If you are wondering why many Gambians and non-Gambian youths spend several hours at betting centres gambling, ask Modou Lamin Conteh who leaves home at 9 am and will only return home at 8 pm. Like him, there are hundreds of young people who do the same at different betting centres.

The push factor according to the bettors is poverty and the lack of job opportunities. Bet addiction is a menace in the Gambia and the number of people engaged in betting has spurred so much so that the centres are filled with young people from morning to night. The betting centres have different games including football, horse race and dog race.

Modou, 26, is from a village and he is staying in his Uncle’s house. He completed his secondary school education seven (7) years ago and obtained a certificate and diploma in information technology in his professional studies. The bet star said he wanted to further his education at the university but he could not. He added that he also wrote for job opportunities at different institutions but his efforts were all unsuccessful.

“You need money to go to the University of the Gambia. I don’t have and my family cannot support me. The family is surviving from monthly rental payments by the tenants occupying our 4 single rooms,” he said.

He explained that as a grown-up and supposedly educated person, his family expects him to take something home to support them.

“Most of the time I go home with empty hands but sometimes I win from my bettings and buy some foodstuff for the family. That’s how I am living and I think it is the best option for me at this moment,” Modou said.

The people who speak to this medium stated that they have been seeing a few of their friends make huge money from betting and this keeps them going. The bet addicts said they have lost hope in getting jobs in the country and they do not have the support necessary to start a business.

“My friend last month won Three Hundred Thousand Dalasi (D300,000) from betting and was able to purchase furniture for his mother and pay his brother’s school tuition fee. I have been trying my luck and I have been winning, too. Not long ago, I won Fifteen Thousand Dalasi (D15,000) and I have been winning a few thousand. I want to win huge and buy a vehicle and enter the traffic,” Buba Ceesay, a resident of Serrekunda said.

“My friend from the same football club won Fifty Thousand Dalasi (D50,000) last month. I also won Ten Thousand Dalasi (D10,000) last week. I am trying my luck and I hope I get One Million Dalasi (D1,000,000). If I don’t get it I won’t stop,” Alasan Jallow said.

“We see those working in the government play bet. We are living with them in our homes and we are hearing their complaints. What we get here is better than what they are getting. I will remain here and try my luck,” Alieu Barry said.

“I have been betting since 2021 and I have won only twice. I will never give up because I am seeing people winning and my luck will come one day. For me, it is a do-or-die thing,” Assan Mboge said.

At the betting centres, each day, there is always a huge crowd of people playing different games with the expectation of making money. There are betting agents in the streets of the townships and now by extension in the villages that receive deposits on behalf of the betting company and print tickets.

Skills Training

Honourable Ousman Sillah, the Secretary General of the Sub-Saharan Africa Skill and Apprenticeship Stakeholders Network (SASASNET) said the push factors for the rise in betting or gambling are poverty, unemployment and the desire to get rich quickly. Honourable Sillah is also a former member of the National Assembly and is currently the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for Crab Island.

The skills training and development advocate said the impact of betting or gambling is the raising of false hopes of succeeding in life through sheer and uncertain luck.

“Rather than engaging in something that guarantees certainty of an outcome, you reduce your future to be dependent on a luck that deprives others of the same uncertain successful outcome,” he said.

He said we live in a society that no longer has social safety nets undergirded by a closely knit society where everybody is the other person’s keeper as in our traditional societies.

“Now everybody is thought to care for himself/herself and family (nuclei) and nobody else. The post-independent Gambia is also not doing well in terms of managing a sovereign national wealth that caters for the survival and development needs of her people and the country to ensure liberty, dignity and prosperity. Unless we re-orient our values to ensure that people care for each other and the country and for the government to manage and commit the resources of the country to serve the interest of the people, the challenges posed by betting, crime, irregular migration, and other social vices, will be difficult to overcome. Although, in some instances, laws can serve as a deterrent but cannot alone be the long-lasting solution.”

He said the central governments and local councils are empowered or mandated by law to collect and manage resources on behalf of the citizens/taxpayers and equally obliged to utilise such resources to promote the welfare of the same citizens/taxpayers.

“In essence, both the Government and the municipal and area councils can and should use the resources collected/generated to invest in the productive sectors to provide employment and economic opportunities for young people,” he said.

He stated that there is no doubt that investing in skills and apprenticeship development is a lost cause but a game changer in terms of addressing unemployment, poverty, irregular migration, and other societal vices.

“Skills and apprenticeship are the engine for development and prosperity. I, therefore, wish to take this opportunity to urge the government to invest in the youth to address the challenges facing them and the country and that there is no better way to do this than through skills and apprenticeship development. I also wish to implore society to view and regard skills and apprenticeship as a career path for productive members of society and to give it all the support to encourage more young people to opt for these trades for personal and national development,” he said.

All the economists the reporter spoke to said betting or gambling is not for young people. They also advocated for the Government to create more job opportunities for the young people. People gamble or engage in betting for different reasons, but the ultimate desire is to become rich or make money.