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Gambling takes villagers in Mombasa, Kilifi by storm

September 5, 2017 5:24 AM
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Gambling takes villagers in Mombasa, Kilifi by storm

A brawl breaks out between two schoolboys in a narrow dusty alley in Mikanjuni slum, Mtwapa, along the Mombasa-Malindi road. They are fighting over an unpaid Sh20 debt.

One boy loaned the other money to place a bet in one of the many betting machines in the area, with the understanding that he would pay back with an additional Sh10 as interest. He loses and they fight.

The jangling from the electric betting machines installed outside shops can be heard from afar. The gamblers, including children aged below 10 years, place their Sh20 wagers into a coin slot on the right side of the boxes for a single spin.

The machines resemble mini-refrigerators with plastic fronts emblazoned with miniature figures of famous football stars like Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and his Barcelona counterpart Lionel Messi.

During the school holidays and on weekends, children come to bet from as early as 9am.

"They have flooded virtually every area with these boxes. They are targeting children. They have turned the village into a betting community," says William Mahindi, a resident.

Once a bet is placed, the machines chime and beep, encouraging the children to spend more money.

"The sounds produced by the machines appear to excite or manipulate the young gamblers to think they are about to hit the jackpot, only for them to lose more money to the machines," says Mr Mahindi.

Local residents say the machines were mounted by a foreigner accompanied by his local agents. Mikanjuni has 15 such machines spread over a radius of 300 metres.

The shop operators are paid between Sh800 and Sh1,000 depending on the collections by three foreigners and a local agent who unlock the machines to empty them once a week.

"They come to empty them every Monday and we are paid a commission depending on the collection," says a shop operator who identified herself as Mama Zawadi.

Besides Mtwapa, the betting machines are mounted outside shops in Likoni, Changamwe, Jomvu and Kisauni, and appear to target slum residents.

During the August holidays school children gather at the machines from as early as 9am. But since last week, when schools were opened, the queuing begins at 3pm.

Parents have complained that their children are becoming addicted to gambling and are accusing police on patrol of not taking action.

"The police know what is happening but they have decided to look the other way as our children are inducted into this type of gambling," says Zainab Kenga, a resident of Bakery in Likoni.

But Mombasa County Commissioner Evans Achoki says they are already battling the vice.

"We have started cracking down on illegal gambling and police have been directed to sustain the war."

It is not clear how many - if any - suspects have been arrested or charged but Mr Achoki warns that "children will not be allowed to participate in gambling of any style or name".

"Anyone with evidence that police are taking bribes from the owners of these gadgets should come forward and share information with us," he says.

But Ms Kenga insists the police have been lax. Like many children in Kisauni, Mtwapa, Likoni and Changamwe, her son, aged six, is addicted to betting.


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