Kampala, Uganda | By Irene Namarah | Robert is a businessman and he has been gambling for five years. His addiction to gambling was triggered by a nasty break up with the love of his life. As time went by, gambling ceased to be an emotional getaway and a potential side income and before he knew it, Robert had been swallowed up. His gambling was financially drowning him. He still gambles every day but has never won a decent amount of money.
Henry, a prestigious civil servant, who has been gambling for more than 15 years from the days of Casino Paradise, says that he gambles for fun more than for financial benefit. He gambles once a week with a maximum of 5 million shillings and the highest he has ever won at once was 18 million from Kampala Casino.
He also gambles in other countries like the United States and the Bahamas and says his gambling experience here leaves a lot to be desired. Asked whether gambling has had any negative effects to his life and finances, he says none of that has happened to him yet.
Until twenty years ago, little was known about gambling in Uganda and the only gambling places then were Casino Paradise and Kampala Casino. After the closure of Casino Paradise, Kampala Casino remained as the lone horse in that business for 10 years before Grand Casino opened six years ago.
However, the situation has changed. Today, gambling has taken Kampala by storm with many more casinos mushrooming in the city. This includes the sports -betting and slot machine centers which have spring up around the city as well as suburbs.
Wealthy gamblers often hit the casinos whereas the low-earning gamblers and soccer-passionate gamblers hit the slot machine joints and sport betting centers. Some low-earning gamblers and the jobless also go to the casinos to gamble but most often to hang around wealthy gamblers in case the latter throws some cash in the direction of the former.
The first thing to catch your eye when you enter one of the city’s casinos is the seriousness on the faces of almost every one there: the clients, employees, dealers, and their suited up bosses. Even with all the seriousness, an exciting ambience fills the gaming halls. These places are designed to get the players adrenaline flowing. They feel the thrill as they place their bets. It is like soccer fans watching their favourite game of the season except that for gamblers, they are the ones in the game.
Gamblers are a different breed. They often think about numbers as they lay down in bed and sometimes even dream about them. Often waking up convinced beyond doubt that they have found their winning numbers. In some extreme cases they wake up in the middle of the night to drive to the casino to try their luck. The slot machine players mentally visualize the coins flowing down from the machine as the next pull of the lever is going to make them instantly rich. Sometimes they do get lucky but when they don’t, it doesn’t stop them from repeating the same behaviour the next day.
Some gamblers choose to play the same game like poker or blackjack and some roulette table players play the same numbers everyday. One active gambler only bets his birthday number every day.
Disciplined players hit the casinos at a particular day and time and leave at a particular time whether they win, lose or neither. Often these are heavy gamblers who go to the casino to rest as they play their favourite games.
Though the casino business is growing very fast, few Ugandans are taking to gambling so the casinos have
to compete for the same old players. The casinos’ best clients are those who can lose more than 60 million shillings a month.
There is no proper regulation for the gaming industry in Uganda, so the casinos cannot be induced into providing rehabilitation for the addicted gamblers like most countries do. Elizabeth Birungi, the Public Relations Officer for Kampala Casino cites the need to provide counseling to addicted gamblers. She adds that they have the biggest number of clientele, most of whom are prominent business men and high government officers who can lose huge amounts of money every day and still not feel the financial pinch.
When asked about how the casino was affected by the recent global economic downturn, Birungi said they have a backup plan for situations like that since they’ve been in business for more than 15 years. Kampala Casino, however, financially participates in charity activities like paying school fees for needy children and support sports, a trend that sets them aside from the other casinos.
So if the gambling itch hits, where do Kampalans go to throw down some cash? Though relatively new on the Kampala gambling scene, Mayfair Casino has managed to push itself ahead in the gambling business with the biggest number of clients. It is a branch of Mayfair Kenya.
Simba Casino is known for its emphasis on the sexy look of its female employees. The Grand Casino now known as Ceaser’s Palace, is struggling to get back into competition since its numerous management changes in recent years. Pyramids Casino, a branch of Kampala Casino, targets the highly private and very wealthy clients with higher prices and VIP services.
Gambling is looked upon as a vice in many societies but it is generally accepted in Uganda. If you have the money and are looking for a unique and exciting night out with your friends or are looking to impress some business clients, head to one of Kampala’s casinos. Remember though that the gambling business makes money when most of its customers lose. But you never know, you could also win big!