Namibia’s N$22 million annual revenue-generating gambling industry will soon be faced with stricter legislation aimed at protecting Namibians from gambling addictions, Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta has revealed.
He told The Villager that the new Gaming and Entertainment Bill, which is in its last stages of being drafted, will protect vulnerable members of society affected by gambling.
However, the new provisions might reduce revenue generated from the industry.
“The ministry recently held a workshop with legal drafters on the Bill, and we will be tabling the Bill in the National Assembly when it resumes in September”, Shifeta said.
The provisions in the new Bill will fill the gaps and loopholes in the Casino and Gambling Houses’ Act of 1994, which regulates casinos offering gambling outlets such as slot machines and table games.
Shifeta noted that the existing law lacks proper control and regulation of gambling, given that gambling leads to substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, delinquency and crime as some gamblers go as far as borrowing and stealing money to support their behaviour.
The Bill is being drafted in a manner which will enable the government to raise funds from lotteries to benefit certain parts of the country, and to assist in the upliftment of the Namibian people.
The minister said in the past, government deprived itself of hundreds of millions of dollars in uncollected revenue since 1996 due to a lack of effective gambling legislation.
Furthermore, the new Bill plans to raise the legal gambling age from 18 to 21, and introduce tougher penalties to protect minors, with additional provisions which will make it possible to register gambling addicts, whereby families can apply for such people to be barred from gambling houses.
The Bill further provides for the establishment of a Lotteries’ Board, and spells out the conduct of a national lottery while also introducing new regulations on licences, bets and wagers.
Other proposed changes include the introduction of gaming inspectors with powers to arrest, and a central monitoring system of gambling machines.
According to information provided by the ministry, Government introduced the Casinos and Gambling Houses’ Act (Act No. 32 of 94) after realising the need to regulate the gambling industry to ensure that it was kept crime-free, while revenue to the State was being generated.
By December 1996 when the Casinos and Gambling Houses’ Amendment Act of 1996 was introduced, suspending the issuing of gambling house licences, only 254 gambling house licences were issued by the Casino Board.
These registered gambling houses provide Government with an estimated annual revenue of N$20 million.
The ministry said by 1996, the number of registered gambling machines in Namibia stood at 1700. This figure increased to approximately 5600 and is still rising, which implies there are still a significant number of unregistered gambling machines in the country.
According to earlier media reports, this situation prompted the establishment of a Commission of Enquiry into Gambling in Namibia under the chairmanship of Deputy Chief Justice Petrus Damaseb on 4 June 1996.
That commission submitted its report, and recommended that a moratorium on the application and issuing of gambling house licences be put in place until the necessary measures are effected to correct the situation.
The report pointed out that the monitoring and enforcement of gambling legislation in Namibia is lax.
It also stated that the present arrangement where government officials who have other responsibilities are also responsible for this compliance and enforcement, is not conducive to the effective control and regulation of the gambling industry.
Key among the recommendations made by the Damaseb Commission was introducing gambling legislation which would increase revenue-generation and the enforceability of gambling debts.
These are some of the issues which Government, through the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, is trying to address by drafting a new Gaming and Entertainment Bill, a process which started in 2008.