Kenya: Concern as Illegal Gambling Machines Make a Return to Meru

Gambling casinos have been in Kenya for decades and were mostly attended by the rich thought to have the money to spare for such ventures.

However, the betting craze some years back took the nation by storm with the proliferation of betting and gambling companies.

Most of those addicted to this were sucked in by their initial success as gamblers.

Gambling culture

This addiction embodies the gambling culture that has bedeviled many young people in unregulated dens in Meru County.

The dens were shut down by the government in a crackdown three years ago which was ordered by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i.

The CS had ordered county and regional commissioners to raid premises and confiscate unlicensed gambling machines in areas under their command.

But arrests of the gamblers and confiscating of slot machines appears not to be a warning shot to those involved in this illegal activity.

Legal gambling is only allowed in licensed betting and gaming premises in a regulated manner, whereby persons aged under 18 are not allowed.

The betting and gaming slot machines are back with a bang, especially in Gitimbine and Makutano townships of Meru County.

Meru residents have raised concern over the return of the machines in the town, saying youths are wasting their time and money, idling in the dingy places gambling the little they earn.

Shrewd businessmen have bought the machines in large numbers and have stationed them in licensed bars in the town.

"In some bars, you will find some areas set aside where there are rooms that are always locked and you wonder what goes on in there. The truth is that gambling is going on unabated," said John Mutuma, a resident of Gitimbine where most of these machines are stationed.

Meru Municipality Chief Mercy Murithi admitted that the illegal betting was rampant, adding that the young men don't observe Covid-19 health protocols.

"The places are dark and congested and there is a danger of these people infecting each other with the virus. We have raided several times and burnt the machines but the traders keep buying new ones," she said.

Illegal business

Mr Peter Mbugi, Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) chief executive officer, said they had received complaints from residents in various parts of the region, adding that they would send officers in the areas for inspection.

"The machines are illegal because they are not certified and we have given instructions to administrators in these areas to crack down on the traders," Mr Mbugi said on Thursday in a phone interview.

The betting industry has in recent times witnessed a surge in popularity amid aggressive marketing campaigns by the betting firms.

But both levels of government have been in an unsuccessful struggle to curb the setting up of slot machines.

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