Lobby groups sue top gov’t officials over gambling advertising

By , K24 Digital
On Mon, 17 Jul, 2023 15:08 | 4 mins read
Lobby groups sue top gov't officials over gambling advertising
Peter Mbugi, CEO, Betting Control Licensing Board, Kenya. PHOTO/Courtesy

Three civil society groups have sued top government officials over betting, gaming, and gambling advertisements in media.

The groups led by African Centre for Corrective and Prevention Action have sued Attorney General Justin Muturi, Cabinet Secretaries Kithure Kindiki(Interior), Florence Bore(Labour), Susan Nakhumicha(Health), and IT CS Eliud Owalo as well as the Betting Control and Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) for failure to control the open advertising of betting, lottery and gaming activities and dissemination of related information to minors in the country.

"The respondents have neglected and/or failed to prevent the airing of gambling-related programmes at the time children are likely to view or participate in contrary to the law as the continued exposure to the said gambling activities poses great risk to the life, health and well-being of children in the country," the Petitioners argue in their court papers filed at Milimani High Court.

The AG and the five CSs have been accused of failing to enforce the statutory prohibition on the engagement or participation of minors in betting, lottery and gaming activities in the country.

While seeking a ban on all forms of gambling advertising, including promotion from sports betting, online casinos and scratch cards pending the hearing and determination of the lawsuit, the Petitioners argue the continued engagement or participation of the minors in betting, lottery and gaming activities contrary to the law endangers their health, safety and social - economic interest.

The three human rights groups African Centre for Corrective and Preventive Action, Stand Against Gambling Addiction(SAGA), Centre for Accountability Reforms and Democracy through lawyer Mbiyu Kamau now want the court to issue an order stopping the further broadcast of all gambling-related programs and advertisement at watershed periods between 5 am and 10 pm likely viewed by a large number of children.

They also want the court to issue orders against all the gaming and gambling operators, companies, organizations or individuals engaging in the business of gambling from, allowing, permitting, luring, encouraging and or otherwise doing business of gambling with children.

"Temporary injunction compelling the Respondents (government) to stop unlicensed betting, lottery and gaming through themselves, their agents, servants, employees and/or officers from offering gambling products," lawyer Kamau seeks.

Further, the Petitioners also want an order suspending the issuance, renewal and operation of licenses of broadcasters airing gambling-related programmes and advertisements at watershed periods (time between 5:00 am and 10:00 pm) likely viewed by a large number of children.

In affidavits filed in court by African Centre for Corrective and Prevention Action Director James Mwangi Macharia and a former gambler and founder of Stand Against Gambling Addiction(SAGA) Kelvin Mugambi Kubai argue that the proliferation of betting, lottery and gaming companies operating via telecommunication platforms led to unhealthy competition and a race to the bottom.

"The resultant cut-throat competition has driven many into engaging children as part of their clientele, marketers and influencers of betting, lottery and gaming contrary to the law," Macharia states.

He adds that in response to the competition, some betting and gaming companies view children as a prospective market and either encourage or turn a blind eye to them engaging in their business activities contrary to the law.

"The betting firms lack proper mechanisms; Know Your Customer (KYC) standards that require the company to verify the age and identity of their subscribers," Macharia says

On his part, Kubai argues that the state has failed miserably to put mechanisms in place to protect children from engaging in the available gambling platforms, online, through mobile devices, betting shops and casinos.

According to them, the Betting Control and Licensing Board has failed to formulate and enforce age verification during the registration of participants and specific betting transactions.

"The lacuna created by the lack of KYC standards in betting companies and enforcement of age verification regulations by the Communication Authority of Kenya has seen the onboarding of minors on their sites which is against the current laws and regulations," Macharia states.

He says that the rapid growth of the sector and operators have caused a similar rise in the betting and gambling advertising in the country as the Betting Control and Licensing Board has issued licences to 105 bookmarkers, 57 public gaming entities and 13 public lotteries as published on its website.

"The media outlets, both digital and broadcast and social media platforms carry out the betting and gambling advertisement and programs at periods of the day when children are likely to view. Since the CA has failed to enforce its own regulations on broadcasting watershed periods," Macharia says in his affidavit.

The Petitioners argue that the minors who lack an understanding of the risk involved are vulnerable and receptive to gambling programmes and advertisements, thus directly engaging in the advertised betting and other gambling-related activities habitually.

"The advertising further promoted by various media from television, radio, internet websites and social media platforms indirectly influence them through their peers, teachers, parents or guardians and other role models who participate in the same," Macharia says.

According to human rights groups, compulsive gambling affects individual minors in both psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation and long-term physical conditions like heart diseases, digestive diseases and hypertension.

"In extreme circumstances, gambling addiction in minors leads to suicide and other acts of self-harm, " they argue.

Further, Macharia says that the participation of minors in the betting and resultant addiction has adverse social and economic effects including financial ruin and misappropriation of resources, crime and breakdown of family and societal relations.

Kubai says that the Communication Authority of Kenya has failed to formulate and enforce extended products responsibility (EPR) regulation requiring licensed operators to take responsibility and corrective measures for any negative effects their products cause to consumers.

The Petitioners have accused the government of failing to put mechanisms to enable the persona affected by gambling addiction, directly or indirectly, to access the necessary treatment and restitution for damage incurred.

The petition is pending a hearing.

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