Sports betting ban: Bettors have not been joining Opposition protests, now they will

Is Museveni digging own grave? Ban betting and millions of desperate youth will take to the streets to either rob or join Opposition protests.

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NATIONAL | Government set to ban sports betting.” The headline Daily Monitor is selling with on Monday. There was a time that same headline would never have even been flagged on the back page of any national daily. The story would have been hidden as a column strip in sports or a brief in business section.

But times have changed. Daily Monitor couldn’t have picked a better lead for Monday’s edition, although it suffered some injustice as the full story was placed on Page 5. Could have gone on Page 3 any day and justifiably too.

Sendo Cleaners

According to the story, President Museveni has ordered that no new sports betting company should be licensed to operate in Uganda and licences for the existing companies should not be renewed.

The newspaper, quoting the state minister for planning, David Bahati, revealed the President gave the directive because sports betting companies have diverted the attention of youth from hard work.

Bahati said church leaders who have been against sports betting can now praise the Lord because their prayers have been answered.

There will be a lot of debate about this. It will take a lot of dogs eating grass and cats walking backwards for this matter to rest. But Museveni is obstinate, big-headed adn pig-headed all in one. He always insists on having his way at whatever cost, except when dealing with boda boda and taxi operators around elections.

If the government shot itself in the foot with social media and mobile money taxes, it looks like it is now shooting its own heart. If there is anyone who has ever suffered a bullet to the heart, they surely lived in the films.

The church leaders calling for betting ban probably have their eyes on more tithes and offertory. They are losing a lot of these to betting firms, or so they feel.

The lucrative nature of betting sector is a testimony that there are quite many desperate youth — or rather Ugandans since the working class and elderly, too, bet. To church leaders, banning betting would leave these many desperate folks seeking solace and consolation in the church, thereby taking ‘God’s bits of wood’ back to these places of worship.

Museveni is the best political chess player the entire Great Lakes region has seen. Over the last 50 years, he has manouvred the pieces on his board without exposing his own King to challenging checks. He also knows that chess masters sacrifice some pieces to gain better advantage.

But what is Museveni gaining from this sacrificing? Whichever angle to turn the chessboard, Museveni is exposing himself to a checkmate. Yes, a checkmate. And dangerously, too.

Among the major reasons he advances for taking that reckless manouvre is that sports betting companies have diverted the attention of youth from hard work.

Since 2011, one can argue that sports betting has played in his favour. Not in helping URA construct its headquarters at three times the “normal rate” but rather in keeping the youth who are the biggest bettors too busy betting to think of political hard work.

Whenever there has been a call for action against Museveni’s government, whenever situations have warranted the youth to pour on to the streets to protest, these youth have been ensconced in betting parlours, engrossed in their own “steady progress.”

Those millions of youth who cannot wait for a weekend to go betting would care less about the price of bread and sugar or how much SFC soldiers are clobbering citizens as long as Huddersfield does not shock Manchester City and offset their winnings.

Moreover, the many losses in betting has its own advantage, too. Whilst not being an expert on suicides, at least I can claim that the rate of people taking their own lives in Uganda is very low. There are many reasons people commit suicide but those hardened by betting rarely take that step.

This is because gambling has like one in ten chance of winning. Imagine staking your Shs200,000 and expecting to rob the betting investor of Shs7 million return and you have your coupon of 10 games all correct but one last game of Anarthosis. Then the Greek club bottles it at home when playing a bottom side with their odd 1.02.

Bettors are hardened but remain humans who can explode too. Forget the expected rise in crime rate when betting is banned, now think of the other “hard work” that bettors can render their hardened hearts in like doing what they have shunned for years as they went about betting.

Ban betting, the only source of consolation for millions of desperate youth, without offering better alternatives for them and you are in essence asking them to take their “hard work” on the streets in two ways. First is robbery, which needs no introduction.

The second is to join the Opposition protests. If there were some selfish Opposition leaders, they would be rubbing their palms with glee at this. Museveni is throwing them a rare ‘change line’ to grab onto and take action.

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