Addiction ails Africa

Bloomberg this week reported that “online gambling has millions of young Africans battling addiction.”

The article paints a stark picture of gambling addiction across several African jurisdictions, where a lack of regulatory oversight allows international operators to bend rules and low incomes often see customers turn to gambling in desperation.

It tells the stories of several individuals, including 15-year-old Brave Luhanga, who shouldn’t legally be allowed to place bets at his local PremierBet outlet in Lilongwe, Malawi, but regularly does anyway.

In impoverished communities, the piece explains, shops like PremierBet may be the only place in town to have air conditioning, comfortable surroundings and televisions, and as such have come to act as social hubs for many inhabitants.

Around 90% of Malawi’s population earns less than $4 per day, according to the World Bank, and a lack of job opportunities can also lead many to gamble money they don’t have in the hopes of escaping the cycle of poverty.

The problem is not just limited to Malawi, of course, and the article goes on to describe how in places such as Kenya, “it’s reached the point where people bet like it’s a religion.”

In response, many are working to combat the worst effects of gambling harm taking place across the continent, but with little to no government backing and extremely limited funds, they face an uphill struggle.

One man running a clinic for addiction in Nairobi suggested that gambling companies market irresponsibly in Africa, presenting it as “something to make you rich, like a legitimate business,” rather than simple entertainment.

This, among myriad other factors, has led to an explosion in gambling across Africa over the past 10 years, the full effects of which still remain to be seen.

While many international operators view African markets as their next major growth drivers, many believe they should first consider the human cost of their profits.

Readers are encouraged to read this in-depth and well researched article in full, to better understand the impact gambling companies are having across the African continent.

Taking the plunge

Moving back to the UK now, as ITV News reported this week on a Belfast woman who found cold water swimming to be “the key to her recovery” from gambling addiction.

Sarah Boyd began playing online slots after being tempted by generous introductory bonuses, but quickly found her level of spending increased from just £20 per month to her entire monthly salary.

“When I look back, I can never see the line of difference of where that crossed over and I think that is what’s so dangerous about online slots. Maybe it is just starting as a hobby but it’s very hard to tell the difference of when it changes from a hobby into an addiction,” she said.

Gambling addiction soon began to exacerbate existing mental health challenges for Sarah, including anxiety and depression, and she even attempted twice to take her own life as a result.

“I felt very, very alone and hopeless… and when I came here to do cold water swimming it was so refreshing,” she said.

Now, the cold water is helping to wash away her struggles with mental health, she suggests, and she is determined to spread greater awareness around the dangers of online gambling.

She also hopes to encourage anyone struggling with addiction to take the plunge into cold water and see if it can help them too.

That’s certainly one way of putting the freeze on an out-of-control gambling habit.

DraftKings looking for targets?

A quick foray into M&A now, as the Financial Times reports that DraftKings held early-stage talks with 888 shareholders over a possible takeover last summer.

The FT suggested that the talks were “a sign of the increasing dominance of US operators in the betting industry, and how their financial firepower may yet drive a further wave of consolidation in the sector.”

Apparently, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins had spoken to Kenny Alexander-led consortium FS Gaming last June and July, about making a possible all-stock offer to take over 888 and its subsidiaries.

At the time, FS Gaming was a top-five 888 shareholder, and the FT suggests that DraftKings’ interest in acquiring 888 “underlines the expansion ambitions of US betting operators.”

According to the article, DraftKings walked away from the talks after the Gambling Commission revealed it had placed 888’s licence under review.

In addition to that, 888’s £1.7bn debt pile represented another major hurdle to be overcome in any potential acquisition talks.

Following the publication of its Q3 results last week, DraftKings CEO Robins declined to comment on any discussions of a takeover.

“888 is one we’re aware of, we’ve certainly watched it over the years, I know there’s been quite a twisty, turny story,” he said, adding “I don’t even think 888 is up for sale at this point.”

And, in response to a FT request for comment on the matter, DraftKings said it was “focused on the massive US opportunity in front of us.”

A top-10 888 shareholder told the paper, however, that they would have taken an all-stock DraftKings acquisition offer “very seriously.”

While this particular deal may have fallen through, it does suggest DraftKings could have at least one eye outside the US market.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for

It has been impossible to ignore the hype surrounding AI technology in 2023, most of which has been driven by the accessibility – and capabilities – of OpenAI’s ChatGPT software.

The rise in prominence of AI has left many of us – rightly or wrongly – absolutely convinced that the robot revolution is coming, and sooner rather than later.

Many fear sizeable job losses for us mere human beings, and many are right to. But this may not occur at the hands of a power-hungry droid army, despite what Hollywood would have you believe.

For example, Microsoft this week became the latest top-tier tech company to lay off thousands of staff – 10,000 to be precise – according to the New York Times.

This is not because Microsoft offered ChatGPT £26,000 a year to do their jobs for them, but because the company has decided to pivot to more pressing priorities, including investing heavily in AI.

The newspaper said Microsoft and its technology peers had responded to surging customer demand in recent years by “essentially hoarding” technical staff. But with inflation now squeezing budgets, lay-offs have become a necessity for most large-scale companies.

“The reality is you can adjust hiring very quickly, and that is what is going on,” Stifel analyst Brad Reback told the New York Times. “I don’t think this is symptomatic of a bigger issue.”

So there we have it. Brad doesn’t see the robots taking over as a big issue, and neither should you – for now at least.

Macau’s gambling king to swap junkets for jail

Macau gambling bigwig Alvin Chau was sentenced to 18 years in prison for more than 100 charges including organised crime and illegal gaming this week.

BBC News was one of many outlets to report on the development, which saw Chau found guilty in a case that focused on illegal bets in excess of HK$823.7bn, or £85.7bn – so not exactly pocket change.

Chau, who was the chairman and founder of operator Suncity Group, had denied the charges. It was Macau’s biggest operator of junkets, which are organised trips for the wealthy to land-based casinos.

The business arranged for big spenders from China to travel to Macau and gamble in the city’s casinos, where it was legal, and even offered loans to them. It also collected debts for casinos and operated VIP rooms.

Prosecutors accused Chau of leading a criminal syndicate that worked as a middle man for undeclared bets, which allegedly lost the government more than HK$8.26bn in tax income.

The court ruled in favour of the prosecutors on most charges, but acquitted Chau of money laundering. As gamblers well know, you win some and you lose some.

Quit horsing around

ITV News this week reported on a new study that is searching for participants to assess the effect of the drug ketamine and its impact on gambling addiction.

University of Exeter researchers are trying to find out whether ketamine’s effect on human memory can be used to break down the positive reinforcement associated with gambling addiction, while also preventing the urge to gamble.

The study will be conducted by a professor of psychopharmacology to examine both the benefits and side effects of recreational drug use on cognition, mental health and neurobiology.

It will be the first study in the world of its kind, although magic mushrooms have often been analysed in similar circumstances to explore their effect on different neuro conditions.

The experiment will assess people’s memory of money and determine whether those memories can be altered by giving a low dose of ketamine.

Ketamine is an anaesthetic drug that blocks a receptor involved in learning and memory. It is a Class B illegal drug in the UK, but has previously been used to treat both pain and depression, and is even more well known for anesthetising horses.

If this sort of thing sounds right up your alley, you must gamble regularly and be at least 18 years old to participate.