Schoolchildren addicted to sports betting: From Baraka Policy Institute research by Dr Yunus Adam
In 2018, I collaborated with the Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) to spread the theme, “Promoting a reading culture: The key to an information age”.
The Seminar was organised for proprietors in Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Upper West regions.
After the seminar at Wa, the Upper West regional capital, a proprietor took me aside and said, “Our main worry is that we are experiencing an unusual pupil absenteeism in our classrooms.”
I asked what that was about. He indicated that some foreigners crossed Ghana’s borders and set up gambling and casino centres in some of the remote and surrounding villages.
And it had become such a wayward attraction for the children in both the primary and secondary schools, in that the children spent a good chunk of their little money on those gambling centres.
The gentleman concluded that to promote the reading culture, we have to find a way to stop such errant behaviours.
Baraka Policy Institute
On November 17, 2022, I happened to chair Baraka Policy Institute’s (BPI) 8th Public lectures at the British Council Hall, Accra.
The BPI Annual Public Lectures started in 2015 under the auspices of Mr Salem Kalmoni of Japan Motors, Mr Alhassan Andani as Founding Chairman, and Alhaji Zagoon as Chief Executive Officer.
BPI was designed to provoke reflections on critical issues in Ghana’s national development efforts.
Since its inception, important developmental issues have been the subjects of discussions at the lectures.
The lectures bring together key stakeholders, including experts, government officials, civil society groups, and particularly school children and students.
This year’s theme reflected two topics:
1. The National Development Agenda and Ghana’s system of Education: Challenges and Prospects Beyond Education; and 2. Unpacking the realities and complexities facing the Ghanaian Child.
This year, it was an honour to have had the Minister for Education, Dr Yaw Osei Adutwum, as the special guest of honour.
An eye opener that day was a research report presented by Dr Yunus Adam on “The Prevalence of Sports Betting and its effects on Education and Child Development in Ghana”.
In his research, Dr Adam noted that sports gambling - popularly referred to as “sports betting” - had become prevalent in Ghana.
As permissible as it may be, sports betting causes destructive addictiveness and that cannot be ignored.
One dimension of the menace of sports betting is its negative effects on the education and development of children and youth.
There have been several reports and incidences of children, students and the younger population engaging in sports betting activities.
It is in this regard that the BPI in 2019, conducted research to explore the extent to which school-age children are involved in sports betting and to ascertain the effects of that on schooling outcomes.
The study administered a close-ended questionnaire on 360 randomly sampled bettors found at various betting centres in four cities: Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale. The findings from the study reveal very worrying trends.
Children in sports betting
Dr Adam noted that the “Gaming Act 2006 (Act 721) prohibits younger persons under 18 years from engaging in sports betting in whichever form or shape and it actually instructs betting companies not to allow younger people entry into betting centres or use any betting machine.”
The BPI study findings, however, showed that many young people were actively engaged in sports betting and were doing so both at betting centres, as well as using online betting platforms, including the use of mobile phones.
Out of the 360 bettors sampled, 40.6 per cent of them were below the legal betting age of 18 years.
The breakdown of the ages of the respondents were: 10-13 years (5.0 per cent); 14-17 years (35.6 per cent) and 18 years and above (59.4 per cent).
Scientific evidence shows that young people easily develop destructive addictiveness to betting leading to social stress and emotional instability that affect their mental growth.
Locations of betting centres
Dr Adam’s research also sought to assess the presence and the visibility of betting centres in communities across the country and their exposure to minors and schoolchildren.
The Gaming Act 2006 criminalises betting in public places, Act 721 (34).
Also, the Guidelines on betting advertisements by the Gaming Commission make it illegal to place any outdoor advert, including betting centres within 200 metres of schools and children’s playgrounds.
The spirit behind both laws is obvious: to deter and minimise exposure of betting activities to vulnerable people, including children.
Surprisingly, the study found serious infractions of these laws and regulations.
Study findings show that 37.8 per cent of betting centres sampled for the study were located within 200 metres radius of basic schools.
Many of them were also located near public places, such as mosques, churches and markets, which make them generally accessible to all manner of persons, contrary to what the Gaming Act stipulates.
The study also noticed an alarming presence of multiple sports betting companies operating mostly in poorer and deprived communities which enticed the youth into betting and eventual deprivation.
Negative earning outcomes
A critical dimension of the prevalence of sports betting and the active involvement of minors is its effects on the schooling of young people who engage in it.
The study approached this by assessing attendance and punctuality to school.
It asked respondents to indicate how often they go to school in a week. The results are as follows: once (23.1 per cent); three times (26.1 per cent); all the days (50.8 per cent).
It is evident that children’s involvement in sports betting causes truancy and drop-outs among schoolchildren.
The havoc of sports betting demands a robust regulatory and monitoring regime with the ultimate aim of protecting public interest as envisaged in both the Gaming Act 2006 and the Gaming Commission’s guidelines on Advertisements.
As exemplified by many countries, immediate measures must address the increasing involvement of young people in sports betting, particularly, online betting.
The writer is a trainer of teachers, a leadership coach, a motivational speaker and a quality education advocate.