Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Gambling: A potential jackpot for Botswana economy

Every gambler knows that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep….because every hand’s a winner”, goes a hit song dubbed The Gambler by American country music singer – Kenny Rogers. Rogers himself had borrowed the lyrics from Don Schlitz, who was the first to record it. The song has also been covered by several other artists, but it was Roger’s adaptation of the tale that went on to top global music charts and win a Song of the Year Grammy, later becoming his signature song.

Perhaps this is the song that was part of the playlist at the government enclave when a decision was made to set up what we now know as the Gambling Authority (GA).

The GA was birthed out of a 2003 policy paper that cautioned on the need to regulate gambling in Botswana through a dedicated authority. Before that, the Casino Control Board, housed at the then Ministry of Trade and Industry was tasked with ensuring that that the gamblers ‘know what throw away’ or ‘what to keep’.

Following the 2003 policy paper, law makers approved that the then Betting and Lottery Act and the Casino Act be ‘thrown’ away and be replaced with the Gambling Act 2012. As a result, the GA was established to oversee gambling as well as to regulate and control the development of gambling businesses in the country.

Thuli Johnson – was named the founding Chief Executive of the GA and happens to be the man to speak to if one is in interested in finding out how the gambling industry will positively contribute to the domestic economy.

He recalls that upon taking over the new responsibilities, one of his earliest assignments was ensuring that new regulations were tightened to ensure control measures for the sector. These regulations covered all land-based and virtual (online and mobile) betting in the country, ranging from casinos, bookmakers and bingos to lotteries and racing.

“All kinds of betting had to be licensed”, says Johnson adding that, “Anyone wishing to be involved in any other kind of betting, including by short message service (SMS) and online betting, had to be registered and licensed with the Authority first”.

Johnson says under the regulations, betting premises, gambling machines and key personnel had to be scrutinised and licensed, and stringent anti-money laundering and security monitoring measures were required.

WHAT ARE THE PERKS?

Following a few years of toiling to build the country’s gambling industry strictly from the ground, the question becomes what does Johnson and his team has in store for the local economy? Can the gambling industry hit a jackpot for the ailing economy? Johnson answers in the affirmative.

“Key to this new exciting territory is development of three areas which are bedrock of our plan. These three entails the national lottery, sports betting and horse racing”, Johnson says.

Johnson says preliminary work has already been done in sports betting. “We just want to allow the national lottery to roll out first to give it a chance to gain pace before we introduce another gambling component,” he explains.

“Before rolling out sports betting, we have to ensure that the infrastructure is developed to certain standards and that all processes involved are set to create a conducive and fair betting platform for the gambler.”

The GA is currently at the stage of negotiations for the issuing of a lotto licence to allow for the national lottery rollout. The lottery is expected to create a lot of economic activity and hundreds of jobs. Retail distribution of the lottery tickets, their manufacturing and branding, as well as other associated activities, according to Johnson, will create massive jobs. He speaks about a National Lottery Distribution Fund (NLDF) being established to collect a percentage in every P1 made in the national lottery. The NLDF, which will be managed by a governing board of trustees, will in return use the funds to finance areas of national interest like sports development, the arts, and cultural and social development projects.

Johnson’s superiors at the Trade and Investment ministry seem to be equally excited and pleased with the journey thus far.

Trade Minister – Mmusi Kgafela says it is in order that Johnson and his GA team have set a big challenge for themselves to maximising the industry’s contribution to the locally economy. Kgafela says there is a general observation of some department in government which are in the habit of taking from the economy and not giving anything.

“When a leader shows concern and sets targets for him it’s a good thing. I met Johnson with other departmental CEOs and my message to them was that we should go and work because that’s what the President expects from us. It cannot be business as usual and that’s why i would support any leader who set the bar higher to deliver”, says Kgafela.

Kgafela adds that Johnson has been with the Trade and Investment industry for a long time and that everybody would agree with him when he says he has identified some key growth areas.

To date, the gambling industry in Botswana is seen as entering a growth phase with Kgafela, Johnson and the GA emphasizing the need to have Batswana anticipating in the growth of such an industry.

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