The Gambia has banned gambling, it announced on Monday, denouncing the industry as “exploitative” and saying the government acted to prevent its youth from becoming a generation of addicts.
The move will hit gaming centres and casinos across the west African nation’s tourist resorts and scores of sports betting shops which have sprung up in recent years in the capital Banjul.
“Gambian society has been built on the foundations of promoting positive social values like thrift and integrity rather than negative ones like greed and avarice,” a statement from President Yahya Jammeh’s office said.
“Therefore, it is the duty of the Gambia government to safeguard and promote the public welfare of our citizens.”
The statement said sports betting and other forms of gambling had recently “mushroomed” and that all lotteries, casinos and other forms of betting were to stop operations with immediate effect.
“One often sees pupils as young as seven years of age lining at kiosks during school hours and spending their lunch money on purchasing sports betting tickets,” the presidency said.
“Also, families often go hungry because household incomes are wagered in gambling dens.”
The Gambia is 95 percent Muslim, and the presidency said Islam and Christianity, the main minority religion, “explicitly or implicitly strictly forbid adherents from engaging in gambling”.
“The Gambia government will not allow such unethical and exploitative businesses to operate… and will vigorously take all actions to prevent the young of the Gambia from becoming a generation of compulsive and addicted gamblers,” it added.
‘Unemployment already high’
A top lawyer in Banjul, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP however that religion could not legally be offered as a reason for shutting down gambling venues.
“If this is the case, then why did they register them in the first place? This decision is illegal and should be rescinded by the executive,” he said.
The Gambia, a tourism hotspot of 1.8 million people with an estimated 50,000 annual visitors from Britain alone, has been run with an iron fist since Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994.
Figures on economic activity are hard to come by, but gambling is thought to have become a major contributor to GDP, providing jobs and boosting tourist revenues.
The country’s main resort, the Senegambia strip near Banjul, is dotted with gaming venues and is home to the country’s largest casino, the Kololi, which could not immediately be reached for comment.
Former foreign minister Sidi Sanneh, who now lives in the United States, said the impact of the decision on the hospitality sector would be “devastating”.
“The immediate impact will be felt in the employment of Gambians in hotels, casinos and at the National Lottery when unemployment is already very high due to inappropriate government policies,” he wrote on his blog.
The Gambia’s only independent daily, The Point, welcomed the move, arguing that “families are shattered, schoolchildren forced to drop out of school, and crime rates (are) increased” because of both legal and illicit gambling.