What does imminent sports betting ban mean for Uganda?

  • by Mark Kalule
  • May 18, 2021

Recently, President Yoweri Museveni has announced a ban on sports betting in Uganda. This drastic decision is due to the fact that a large proportion of Ugandan youth are experiencing severe social problems due to a pandemic-like rise of problem gambling in the nation. But what does this imminent ban mean for the country? How will the population respond, and above all, is implementing a ban the right call to action?


Some would say yes, and many would understand why. If you are faced with a problem, the most sensible plan of attack would be to wipe out the issue at its source. And that is what President Museveni aims to do with Uganda’s sports betting ban. 


But will it work? If we take a brief look at some examples throughout history, totally shutting down an industry, or making it unlawful very rarely seems to be the answer to certain rampant issues. For example, if we were to take a look at the prohibition in the United States in the 1920s. The ban on booze gave rise to a booming underground alcohol trade, characterised by bootleggers, moonshine, and continued alcohol abuse. 


If we change our focus to the very tip of the African continent, online gambling has long been illegal in South Africa, with the only legal forms of the practice being available through licensed and registered betting sites. But this hasn’t stopped a roaring online gambling scene that is teeming with illegal operators, and excitable players. 


If we then shift our focus to a different continent, playing host to a specific country with a very different problem, one might be able to learn from an approach many would disregard for its sheer brazeness. Portugal, while known for its beautiful beaches and friendly people, implemented a drastic drug decriminalization tactic, and it’s working. Portugal shifted its focus from criminalising drug users, to treating them, and many could argue that the same approach could be tried for plenty of other issues.


One could argue that the perfect scenario that could be used to test the Portuguese decriminalisation drug approach is with Uganda’s gambling problem. Gambling addiction and drug addiction have similar consequences. They both drain the user’s financial income, both lead to an inability to work and function in society, and both can be characterised by somewhat of a rush when engaged in by addicts. 


Judging by the fact that these two societal problems share some strikingly similar symptoms, perhaps a focus should not be on banning and making the practice unlawful, but rather on making treatment and support a top priority. 


Implementing a ban may sound like a logical solution, but a ban on alcohol in the US in the 1920s simply gave rise to a new unregulated industry, and we might find the same happening to occur in Uganda. Just take a look at South Africa too. 


While the stance may spark some debate, a liberal approach is worth a try. Implementing support structures and options for people who have become consumed by their gambling addictions may be a better avenue than a straight up gambling ban. A ban may lead to vulnerable individuals seeking precarious means to get their fixes, which could see the problem worsen.