At dusk on a warm evening, I was standing in a crammed bus heading Remera. On my left, a man seated was scrolling his phone with a cracked screen. I stole a look for a while, he was checking a WhatsApp group called “Football betting”, a website providing live scores and betting slips—he took in his trouser pocket. Apparently, the man was a gambler.
Gambling is the wagering of money on the outcome of a game that is largely random with the intent to win more money, according to American Gaming Association. Gambling has become a cross-cultural and global activity, and the world has experienced increases in gambling activity, particularly the youth.
In 2016, on one hand the Ministry of Trade and Industry indicated that Gambling contributed more than $1.2 million to the Rwandan economy, but on other hand people who gamble, can sometimes experience addiction.
“Before I stepped into a betting shop, I was sane.” Jack recalls. Jack Cyusa started gambling, when he was doing his university studies. His peer influenced him. He started with his pocket money. “In my first days, I could bet more than one thousand a day.” Jack said. Several times, he won small money which made him continue betting. “I wanted to hit the jackpot.”
That quest to hit the jackpot, made him broke to a point he started borrowing money to bet. It didn’t take long because Jack ran into huge debts. He started lying to his parents, so he can get money. “I really couldn’t tell my parents what was happening, lying to them was the only option.” Despite bad, he was becoming, his parents believed him. But Jack didn’t pay any penny, instead he took the money to the betting shop again.
There is a Swahili proverb that goes, “If you do not fill up the crack, you will have to build a wall.” Jack was giving himself an Everest he would never climb.
Since Jack graduated in May 2016, he didn’t find a steady job. He only spent 6 months as a receptionist in a hotel, because he was dismissed for unjustified absences. “There were some mornings, I was lethargic and penniless, I couldn’t even pay bus fares.” He had reached a point he gambled his entire salary.
Gambling turned him into an addict. Jack left me with this quote: “one day, I will bring back all my money.”
Gambling addiction occurs when someone’s quality of life is suffering because of their continued gambling. Cognitive distortions about gambling, loss of control, impulsive behaviors and continuing to gamble despite heavy losses are some of symptoms of a gambling addict.
This kind of addiction has been called the silent addiction, because the consequences are so easy to hide. Gamblers do not overdose and end up in the emergency rooms, nor do they present to doctors specifically asking for help for their gambling problems.
However, Gambling addiction remains a profound challenge to the addict, family, society and the government.
I understand that the Rwandan government earn millions of dollars through gaming industries but they also lose their population who pathologically engage in this kind of gaming. Sam Skolink, a former gambling addict and author of High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction argues that although many states use some gambling revenues to treat and prevent gambling addictions, this may not be enough. legislators are admitting that they know they are creating a class of gamblers who become addicts. If you know what you are doing creates problems, is this appropriate policy?