Empowering Change: Insights from the NIERA Gamified Savings as Problem Gambling Intervention Dissemination Workshop"

By Laura Were

The Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA) recently held its first dissemination workshop for the “Gamified Savings as a Problem Gambling Intervention” research project, one of the flagship projects under NIERA’s Demand Driven Research Initiative (DDRI). The event which took place in March this year, brought together policymakers, government stakeholders, and representatives from the gambling industry, and researchers eager to engage with the study's findings.

In his opening remarks Samuel Oti, Secretary General at NIERA and Program Specialist at IDRC, providing a background on NIERA and the main aim of DDRI, noting that “it emerged as a response to the push for evidence-based policymaking, accelerated with the growing emphasis to conduct research that responds to specific needs of policymakers."

The two NIERA members who were the principal investigators and visionaries behind the research project Dr. Laura Barasa and Dr. Annet Adong captivated the audience with their compelling presentation. Dr. Laura Barasa explained how the rapid rise of mobile technology has fueled a surge in accessible mobile sports betting apps, which are popular among youth in countries like Kenya and Uganda. Their findings pointed out that 75% of soccer bettors in Kenya and Uganda prefer to place bets on mobile apps as opposed to using betting shops, the internet and USSD codes.

The study revealed some intriguing findings into the financial behaviors of soccer bettors in Kenya and Uganda. A sizeable portion - 48% in Kenya and 50% in Uganda - reported monthly betting expenditures exceeding 1000 shillings. While 61% of Kenyan bettors set aside money for saving, this figure was higher at 81% among Ugandans. Interestingly, 64% of Kenyan soccer bettors saved their money in banks, whereas 36% of Ugandans preferred hiding cash at home. Some of the empirical results were that early payment/immediate cash transfer and large rewards had a positive impact on savings among liquidity constrained individuals. Furthermore, the combination of early payment and gamification enhanced savings for low bettors and those with liquidity constraints. However, combining large rewards and gamification showed a negative impact on savings for the liquidity-constrained sample.

The panel discussions led by Ms. Jennifer Nyakinya, Program Manager- NIERA, sparked thought provoking discussions such as the use of technology to reduce problem gambling in Sub- Saharan Africa (SSA). Weldon Koros, Co-founder-Responsible Gaming Federation of Kenya and Director of the Association of Gaming Regulators in Africa (AGRA), highlighted the potential of Artificial Intelligence in understanding gambling patterns and developing tools like blocking software for addicts. Robert Odida, Senior Youth Officer at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in Uganda, gave feedback on the observations on why Ugandan’s prefer to save money in the house citing evading financial intelligence authorities. He also explained that gambling has had a huge tax benefit for the government giving an example of how it was previously banned, but later reinstated due to lost revenue.

Rhoda Kithure, Problem Gambling Specialist and Clinical Psychologist at Dove International, explained how youth often fail to identify gambling issues early on. "They are lured into it, especially through unregulated advertisements," she cautioned. Dr. Alfred Gitonga, Executive Director at Responsible Gambling, welcomed the much-needed research as he noted that there is limited data available to inform interventions. He spoke of the many cases he encounters from youth who have reached rock bottom contemplating suicide.

In conclusion, Dr. Annet Adong (Principal Investigator-Gamified Savings as a Problem Gambling Intervention), underscored the central role research plays in the gambling industry. "It helps us understand the linkages and perspectives of individuals and policymakers," she stated, highlighting its value for evidence-based solutions as she thanked everyone for attending.

The event was a true celebration of collaboration, with attendees engaging in thought-provoking discussions to combat problem gambling and promote financial resilience among youth.

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