Gambling Companies Criticized for Targeting Africa

European gambling firms are taking advantage of poor inhabitants of sub-Saharan nations by preying on them. The Guardian recently reported on a 16-year-old boy who may have committed suicide because he got in way over his head when he gambled every day.

Gambling Companies Criticized for Targeting Africa

Western gambling firms that seek to expand into promising African markets are taking flak for exploiting the poor inhabitants of countries such as Malawi, the Guardian reported May 29.

The Guardian report included an instance of a grieving mother whose 16-year-old son’s body was discovered after he committed suicide. The woman, Kettie Bonongwe, blamed gambling for the death of Wati (not his actual name.)

Bonongwe told the Guardian, “I never expected anything like this to happen. It was heartbreaking for so many reasons.” She added, “I blame betting for his death. If it weren’t for betting, he would still be alive.”

The teen had been gambling every day for the last year, maybe more, she claims. His grades plummeted and he cut back on how much he contributed to the home’s finances. When he died he was being hounded by creditors.

The Guardian also cited the Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit (Meiru), whose research supports Bonongwe’s conclusions. In addition it reported that her son stole from his employers, lied about his habit, lost jobs and to most friends was “addicted” to gambling.

Betting in Malawi has skyrocketed since 2015, with the main driver being Premier Bet gambling products from U.K.-based Editec. The company operates in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Wati was a customer.

His mother lashed out: “This company has brought me misery,” she told the Guardian. “People are dying, there are social problems, families are breaking down. If it was my choice, I would love to see them go. The company is here for its own benefit. We have more problems than we did before it came.”

The outlet also interviewed families, medical experts and academics in Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe who said more residents are gambling, and many are harming themselves by doing so. The main expansion comes from online gaming.

Manase Chiweshe, a social and community development professor at the University of Zimbabwe, declared, “When you look at the way [gambling companies] advertise, where betting shops are located in deprived areas, their practices in terms of not having any social or community programs around the dangers of gambling … the only conclusion you can come to is that these are exploitative practices.”

The Guardian cited studies of 41 African countries where gambling is legal. Of them, two had reports on the impacts of gambling. Thirteen had passed legislation for electronic gaming machines. Nine countries had such laws for slot machines. Fifteen have laws to regulate online gambling and 18 address gambling advertising.

Gambling companies have filled the “regulatory void,” introducing new products, often products related to Premier League soccer and utilizing European technology. The report accused the gambling industry of behaving as the old colonial powers behaved.

Online gaming revenue in Africa is projected to reach $1.62 billion this year, nearly double what it was three years ago. This is driven by the fact that nearly two-thirds and rising of residents of sub-Saharan Africa have smartphones.

About a quarter of the total population uses the internet. That figure too is rising. But it’s also true that about 40 percent of the population are below the poverty line and many young people don’t have jobs. For them, gambling is seen as a form of income—while the downsides are downplayed or not talked about. Moreover it’s difficult to get accurate data about problem gambling’s harms.

In addition, online gaming ads are ubiquitous, and often feature popular soccer players. They are to be found on billboards, social media and pop-up ads on televised games.

Nigerian researcher Tunde Adebisi told the Guardian, “The adverts are all over the place. I did a study on the frequency of advertisement of betting brands during a live Premier League football game. They appeared every minute throughout the 90 minutes [of a game]. There are also advertisements at half-time. It’s worrisome.”