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Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing serious problems connected with online sports betting (see The Conversation, 24 Nov). A combination of the youthfulness of the population, the popularity among young men of football, especially the English Premier League, and the rapid spread of smart phones and digital satellite TV, are driving this epidemic. An excellent documentary film, Gamblers Like Me: The Dark Side of Sports Betting, produced by BBC Africa Eye, and available on YouTube, looks at this issue in Uganda. The legal age for gambling there is 25 but the ubiquity of smart phones and the lack of effective age checks at the new ‘betting houses’ which have sprung up in urban areas like Kampala makes that a nonsense. Adverts for gambling are everywhere. In a country with high young adult unemployment, gambling can offer false hope. There is much in the film that will be familiar to UK viewers. The excitement of betting on one’s favourite sport and a favourite team, the recollection of one’s best wins and the hope of repeating them, and the ease with which one can be fooled into thinking one is winning when in fact over time one is losing, often heavily, are all there. And then the experience for many of life chances diminishing through gambling, for example being unable to keep up tuition fees in a country where education is key to escaping poverty but always has to be paid for. And for some, growing desperation, awareness one has become addicted, and feelings of hopelessness – suicide featured in the film as it does amongst gambling harms in the UK. What to do about it? Local opposition is growing in Uganda. Some suggested delaying daily opening times for betting houses, others wanted them banned altogether in the area, some wanted tighter control generally, and others suggested banning foreign companies – many companies operating in Uganda are foreign owned, although it is not always easy to find out who the real owners are, and some are based in tax havens. Some company names will be familiar to us in Britain. But a prominent member of the Ugandan parliament was shown defending the gambling industry and controversially the Government was considering setting up its own gambling company. This excellent film ended with an interview with ex-Arsenal and England footballer Tony Adams who is familiar with addiction through his own alcohol problem and who speaks out against gambling sponsorship of football teams and gambling advertising at matches. As he says, international gambling companies are now busy spreading sports betting across Africa.

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