The Taita-Taveta County government has banned coin-operated gambling machines from the region stating that they were fostering gambling addiction amongst young school-going children.
Area Governor, Granton Samboja stated that the machines would not be allowed to operate anywhere in the county over what he termed as encouraging minors to engage in wanton gambling in return for quick money.
He added that the machines were impoverishing the low-income earners in the region as most of them were drawn to the gambling dens in the hope of making extra money.
The governor was speaking at a meeting in Voi on Saturday, where he stated that his administration would not sit idle as children were being inducted into gambling at very young age.
We have hereby banned those coin-operated gambling machines that are being used by school children and other minors, he said.
In the past one year, there has been a sharp increase of coin-operated gambling machines in the region with Voi town alone estimated to have over 100 of them.
Other towns of Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta have also reported an increase in the number of coin-operated gambling machines.
The machines operate around the clock and were mostly strategically placed along streets lined with Mpesa shops, with others located in busy market places.
Residents claimed that the location of the machines was aimed at encouraging as many people as possible to try out their luck by inserting a 20-shilling coin in hope of getting hundreds in return.
The machines have also become favourite haunts for boda boda riders who are losing thousands of hard-earned cash daily to the gambling dens.
The governor’s call was supported by the County Commissioner (CC), Kula Hache who said unless the machines were strictly regulated, they would cause a lot of harm amongst the young children in the region.
She further noted that pupils and students in various schools were the easiest targets for the gambling machines due to the lure for easy cash.
As a government, we cannot sit as these machines wreak havoc on the lives of our children. They will not be allowed to operate, Hache declared.
The call by the governor and the CC has however, been met with protest by operators of the gambling machines who accused the leaders of discriminating against small-scale traders.
Tirus Mwamburi, a Voi trader with two machines, said he was licensed to operate this kind of business.
He denied allegations that the operators were allowing children to gamble, and termed such claims as fabrications meant to support the decision to illegally close them down.
He added that some lucky gamblers were making thousands of shillings daily from the machines which were improving on their lives.
We don’t allow children to gamble. We in fact chase them away. We also have a code of conduct in this business, he said.
Mwamburi wondered why the government was keen on destroying small gambling businesses while allowing big ones to flourish.
He said it was discriminatory that major gambling companies were advertising their business in media targeting the whole country, while small gamblers were being banned.
We also have a right to exists and do business as long as it is legal, he said.
Alice Mkala, a fruit seller in Voi market and a fan of the machines, defended them and said they came in handy when business was slow.
She said that with only a 20-shilling coin, one could sometime instantly win over Sh600. She said she was a beneficiary of the game where she risked only some little money and got four hundred per play.
These machines supplement our small businesses. When you play, you can get coins of over Sh600. With this you can’t go hungry, she argued.
She however, admitted to losing her money to the machines but justified it as part of the gaming process.
Source: Kenya News Agency