Uganda’s gambling operators are living on borrowed time after the government declared it would stop issuing new gambling licenses and decline to renew existing licenses.
On Monday, Ugandan media quoted finance minister David Bahati announcing that the government would issue no new gambling licenses and that licenses already issued to gambling operators would not be renewed once they expire.
Bahati, who said he was acting on a directive from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, said the government’s new anti-gambling view was a response to public concerns over the spread of gambling, particularly among Ugandan youth.
Bahati delivered the government’s message at a religious conference and specifically mentioned the concerns of religious leaders in justifying the new policy. Bahati joked that the leaders in attendance should praise God because their prayers had been answered.
National Gaming Board Uganda (NGBU) chairperson Manzi Tumubweine claimed ignorance of the government’s new position, telling local media that he “can’t comment on what I don’t know.” However, Tumubweine expressed doubts that the government could “ban full bettors” as it appears intent on doing.
Bahati apparently also failed to inform finance ministry spokesperson Jim Mugunga, who expressed ignorance of the policy and thus couldn’t offer any further information on the government’s intentions. However, Mugunga offered the opinion that the reports represented “good news.”
In May 2018, Uganda’s gambling regulator announced plans to develop a central monitoring system to track individual gamblers’ activity and to ensure minors couldn’t access gambling services. Under the Lotteries and Gaming Act 2016, gambling is restricted to Ugandans over the age of 25 years.
Uganda’s government hasn’t always been so concerned with the expansion of gambling within its borders. Last October, the NGBU issued a formal invitation to gaming operators to submit new applications for casino, gaming and betting licenses for 2019. As of May 2018, the NGBU had issued 20 casino licenses, 40 general betting licenses – 26 of which have an online component – one pool betting license and 15 slot machine licenses.