Gamblers Seek Riches in Kampala’s Sports Betting Halls

Critics of Kampala’s growing sports gambling scene say betting halls cause poverty, while the men who frequent the halls say the promise of easy cash lures them.

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Gamblers Seek Riches in Kampala’s Sports Betting Halls

Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda

Men place bets at Goal Sports Betting while others watch an important game at GAL’S Sport Betting. One aid agency has stated that gambling is a driver of poverty in Uganda.

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KAMPALA, UGANDA — Joseph Walukaga’s eyes are glued to a large flat-screen TV at Sports Betting Africa. The vibe in the room is serious: Betting takes a lot of concentration.

“I already placed a bet,” he says. “Now I wait for the game and later collect my winnings, either immediately after the game or tomorrow.”

Walukaga, a 30-year-old businessman, says he started betting six years ago. Now, he usually bets between 20,000 and 50,000 Ugandan shillings ($6-15) every time he places a bet, and says he’s a regular winner.

“My best win was 7,000,000 Uganda Shillings ($2,088) and my lowest is 20,000 Uganda Shillings ($6),” he says.

Even so, he says, he cautions others to avoid the betting house.

“Majority of the people do not win,” he says. “The youth specifically mistake sports betting to be some form of employment.”

The proliferation of betting halls, as well as a relatively new option to send and receive money via mobile money transfers, has made sports betting a popular pastime, or even a money-making scheme, in Uganda, experts and local people say.

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Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda

Men crowd near screens at GAL’S Sport Betting in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, where betting halls attract both employed and unemployed people hoping to win money.

For young people, one study found, gambling, both in person in betting halls and online, is increasingly popular.

“Whereas some betters strike it rich, others continually lose cash but are not about to stop participating, thereby keeping them in a vicious cycle of poverty,” Bruno L. Yawe and Kizito Ssengooba wrote in their 2014 research summary for Makerere University’s School of Economics.

One report by ActionAid International Uganda and other organizations based on work done in 2012 notes that the gambling and betting industry, and especially sports betting, is a “new driver of chronic poverty” in Uganda, and called for increased regulation.

Most sports betting halls aren’t licensed, says says Jonathan Kyeyune, the Board Administrator of the National Lotteries Boar. There are 28 legal betting halls in the country, he says, out of an estimated 140 halls.

Joel Omoding, a manager at Sports Betting Africa, says the National Lotteries Board is currently dormant and needs to step up its involvement in cracking down on illegal gambling. And that’s not the only body that can make a difference, he says.

“The police do so little in enforcement of laws in regards to cracking down illegal betting houses,” he says.

Gambling is entertainment, Omoding says.

“Betting should be fun,” he says. “It should be part of the sporting experience.”

He says his company wants to promote “reasonable” betting and gambling.

High-stakes bets aren’t encouraged at Sports Betting Africa, says Rony Richa, the company’s CEO. He says their lowest fixtures are 500 shillings (15 cents).

More Ugandans need to learn about betting so they can responsibly participate in it as a leisure activity, Richa says.

Firminus Mugumya, a lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Social Work and Social Administration, argues that young men need better ways to fill their time.

“The government needs to provide alternatives to the youth, alternatives like employment and training as they are the most powerful instrument when it comes to gearing the direction towards responsible betting,” he says. “The interest of the government on the youth is low.”

Betting should be fun. It should be part of the sporting experience.

Most betting halls display signs noting that gambling is not permitted for people under the age of 18, but there are differences between the legal and illegal shops. Legal halls, including GAL’S Sport Betting and Sports Betting Africa, are trustworthy, according to Richa and betters, while unlicensed halls sometimes fail to pay winning betters.

John Kyalimpa, 24, says he gambles at Sports Betting Africa, a hall he considers to be trustworthy.

“I have never won since I started betting, what keeps me here most of the time is the hope that one day I will win,” he says.

Kyalimpa, who is unemployed, says he places bets of between 100,000 and 200,000 shillings ($30-60). One day, he says, he went all in with 5,000,000 shillings ($1,493), but his luck hasn’t changed.

He admits he’s tied to gambling and needs help.

“My family is not aware of what I go through almost daily,” he says. “If they knew they would chase me away from home.”

Kyalimpa’s face is blank.

“I however advise my fellow youth not to come to betting, there is nothing to gain,” he says.

Kyalimpa and other unemployed men say they frequent betting houses after they’ve spent long mornings on fruitless job hunts. They watch soccer, socialize and, eventually, begin betting.

Eric Kyeyune says he’s gambled for seven years. The game needs concentration, he says.

“I love betting,” he says. “I have gained a lot from it and cannot stop. It’s not like I bet daily personally. I do responsible betting. This should be a fun experience filled with deserved heights.”

Losing is part of the game, he says.


Patricia Lindrio, GPJ, translated some interviews from Luganda.