In nearly every corner of Monrovia, locals, especially young people, can be observed indulging in a form of gambling called "Sports Betting". For thousands of unemployed youths, investing a few dollars in the purchase of gaming tickets is one sure and very fast way of making money. And they do so by placing bets on football teams playing in leagues in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
Gambling has been considered an illegal activity in Liberia since time immemorial. This was probably so because successive national leaderships had recognized that gambling is addictive and can pose serious problems to an individual's wellbeing including mental health. Gambling becomes addictive when an individual continues to indulge in the act despite the negative effects he may be experiencing such as crumbling finances, marital difficulties, loss of self-esteem, etc.
Gambling addiction drives an individual into compulsive behavioral tendencies that makes him or her seek out gambling, gaming or betting activities and such can have a devastating effect on family life, personal relationships etc.
Perhaps it was in view of this fact that gambling remained outlawed for a long time. President Tolbert under influence of his brother and Finance Minister Stephen Tolbert had attempted to pass a "Gambling Bill" into law but the idea met strong opposition from across the political divide led by a civil society group, Citizens of Liberia Against Gambling (COLAG), and eventually the proposed bill was rejected by the Legislature.
The History of Gambling in Liberia began in 1982 during military rule with the establishment of the National Lottery. Its activities were shut down in 1990 owing to the outbreak of the civil war but was reopened later in 1993.
However, it was not until in 2016 that the gaming industry was expanded to include various forms of betting including sports betting with the passage into law of a regulatory Act called "Gaming Regulation 001" with the intent to regulate the industry.
Under Section 6.11 of the Act "Conduct of Gaming" Regulation b. states "A sports betting licensee shall:
operate a sports betting game in accordance law;
conduct the sports betting business with all propriety, accountability, and transparency;
iii. protect the interests of its patrons;
subject to such terms and conditions as stated on the sports betting license and as the Authority may from time to time require.
prominently display the odds to be paid as appropriate for each bet.
Further, according to Section 41 2. of the Act entitled "Eligibility for a Prize":
A valid, original ticket shall be the only valid instrument for claiming a Prize.
The determination that a ticket is the winning ticket and that the Claimant is the winner must be made in accordance with these regulations and the official rules of the game.
The Prize for a winning ticket shall be paid upon presentation of the winning ticket to the licensee.
This newspaper is concerned about reports that "Winners", one of the largest sport betting companies in Liberia is engaged in practices that run counter to provisions of transparency and accountability spelt out in the Act. Several individuals have complained to this newspaper that they are being shortchanged in their payments when they win.
According to a regular patron, name withheld, his winning ticket showed that he won 25,000 Liberian dollars but upon presentation of his winning ticket, he was accordingly informed that he would receive only 50 Liberian dollars because there were several other winners with the same winning ticket and number and therefore the earnings were shared. The reports have been consistent, thus leaving the public to question whether the gaming industry in Liberia is being regulated at all.
It is indeed quite troubling enough that the gambling industry, especially sports betting, is proving so alluring to Liberian youths, most of who are unemployed and have come to rely on this form of gambling as an easy and probably the quickest way to earning money.
This is hardly surprising because it is clear as daylight that desperation for survival is a major push factor driving young people into a deadly addictive habit such as gambling. This is a matter to which the Government of Liberia should pay serious attention. The management of Winners appears to be shortchanging the people in addition to promoting a deadly addictive habit. And they are doing so shamelessly, taking advantage of the ignorance and powerlessness of young underprivileged Liberians.
Promises of a quick getaway from poverty through earnings derived from sports betting is proving too alluring to Liberian youths, most of who are unemployed and mired in poverty. The creation of jobs especially for young people should be a cardinal concern of government at this stage.
Lest we forget, slowly but surely an ever growing class of gambling addicts is being created right under our noses. Chronic unemployment and unbridled public sector corruption are major contributive factors to this growth.
Further, Government is under obligation to protect its citizens from unwarranted exploitation. It is the understanding of this newspaper that the office of the Vice President has oversight responsibility for the National Lottery.
Should this be the case, we urge Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor to look into this matter concerning "WINNERS" with a degree of urgency with the full intent to stop this naked exploitation of the Liberian people by unscrupulous foreign businessmen. In this regard, the public is indeed justifiably concerned and questions are being asked whether "WINNERS" are anything more than FLEECERS.