Youth and Betting: Psychosocial and Moral Concerns
By Sahaya G. Selvam
In the recent years there has been a boom in the betting industry in Kenya. This is simply evidenced by the increase in the number of advertisements on bill boards and in the print media.
Cybercafés, not only in the city centre of Nairobi but also in universities, have become betting houses.
Though the market value of betting and gambling industry in Kenya is not clearly stated, it is estimated to be as high as a billion shilling a week. It is estimated that the average person who bets spends about KSh. 5000 every month on betting.
Kenya is acclaimed as the third largest gambling market in Africa, after South Africa and Nigeria. However, Kenya stands out in that most of its betters are young, aged between 18 and 35.
One reason for that is that modern-day betting is related to technology, and the young population is technology savvy. They have more access to smartphones and internet compared to other age groups. This also explains the increase in betting in the recent years. It is no surprise then that betting websites are among the most visited sites in the internet.
Psychosocial Impact of Betting
Betting, gambling, and the lottery are related recreational activities, with small variations. Betting is a wager based on predictions of events that are going to take place, such as a football game or a horse-race. When the prediction comes true the better has a chance of winning an exponentially higher proportion of amount, if it doesn’t, the wagered amount is forfeited.
Gambling on the other hand is a competition among a group of individuals, where the winner emerges based on chance or luck. Sometimes human beings compete against a machine. These machines may be programmed in such a way that the owner of the machine has higher odds of winning. The owner, as in casinos, might compete against five people at the same time in which only one will win and the owner has to pay only the winner. Whatever amount is lost by the four others will belong to the owner.
In lottery, several people buy tickets at the same cost, and only a few are picked up by luck to be awarded prizes. Usually, the prize won is far more than the cost of the lottery ticket. The amount remaining after the issuance of the prize will be the profit for the organisers.
Given the element of chance, suspense, and promise of reward, the human psyche seeks out the thrill available in betting, gambling, and lottery.
There is a pleasure associated with winning the reward, and a sense of expectation about the future possibility of reward even when one loses. The cycle of promise of reward and the occasional experience of reward leads to a cycle of craving and feeling high. This is nothing but the cycle of addiction.
True, betting and gambling can be highly addictive such that when a person wants to wean off this addictive behaviour, even aggravated by the loss of resources, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.
One of the clear indicators of withdrawal is depression which can push someone to suicide. Thus, betting and gambling are high-risk behaviours that could lead to self-harm, harm of others and loss of resources such as money and time.
Government’s Attitude towards Betting
Most governments regulate gambling behaviour in their countries, some with more stringent laws than others. Some governments or government parastatals, even organize lotteries to raise funds for their activities. A good example is the National Lottery in the United Kingdom, that is government sponsored. It uses the income to fund charities and even research.
A similar example in Kenya is the Pambazuka National Lottery. These could be likened to a kind of crowd-funding.
In Kenya the government is explicitly sympathetic towards gambling and betting organised by private companies since it reaps a high level of income in forms of taxes.
However, the government also has the duty of regulating betting activities, given its psychosocial risks as pointed out above. Currently, the law governing gambling and betting in Kenya is rather outdated coming down from 1966. In the bourgeoning situation of betting and gambling, and the increasing cases of suicides associated with betting in Kenya, the government has a responsibility to regulate these activities more stringently.
The Church’s Position on Betting
Some Christian traditions may be totally against gambling, and by extension, absolutely negative towards betting and lottery. However, the position of the Catholic Church is more balanced. What the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC.2413) asserts about games of chance could be extended to betting. It says the following relation to the Seventh Commandment:
Games of Chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.
In practice, the Catholic teaching maintains that gambling or betting is morally acceptable when all of the following conditions are met: The money or possessions wagered are not needed to support one’s family or to fulfill other just obligations; A person participates freely; The revenues derived from gambling are not used to support any illegal or immoral enterprise; The games of chance are operated fairly, and every participant has an equal chance of winning or losing.
It is important to note that the Church also warns us of the psychosocial dangers of gambling: that it can enslave a person in terms of addiction. If not carried in moderation and with due watchfulness for its potential dangers, St Augustine’s dictum might as well be true: “The devil invented gambling.”
Fr Selvam is a Salesian priest. He is a psychology lecturer at Tangaza University College, Nairobi.