Regulating the Gambling Den

Inside a gambling house is a gambler’s mind. But before you place that bet, think about your ‘investment’ and that ‘bookie’ taking your bet money. Without prejudice to any officially registered betting company, you, the gambler, must know how the ‘bookie’ operates or ought to operate.

Early this year, reports of local leaders banning betting houses in the eastern region of Uganda flocked social media. Unfortunately, their efforts may be hindered by the law that gives gambling houses the right to operate.

Gambling houses, like I’ll call them henceforth, multiply daily not because they have the money but because they have a chronic gambler, ready, willing and able to bet on anything. A casino owner only needs the minimum capital to start up a casino. He will reap mounds of money from unlucky gamblers. He will ensure that the winning gambler returns and bets his wins. That is how it works, just like in the movies.

Due to the public outcry to the government to streamline gambling houses, legislators found it necessary to revise the old law, repeal it and formulate a new set under the Lotteries and Gaming Act No.7 of 2016 (Uganda).

Despite thwarted plans to end gambling altogether, the Act categorises gambling activities into three to impose particular regulations for each. Somehow, this categorization protects pessimists who do not bet but participate ‘safely’ in nationwide lotto. Every gambling venture is directly under the Ministry of Finance. Lotteries, gaming and betting are the main gambling schemes in this industry that the Minister of Finance has direct control over them all.


Lottery’, defined by the Act is ‘any game, scheme or arrangement, system, plan, promotional competition or device for distributing prizes or property by lot or chance, whether by throwing or casting of dice, tickets, cards, lots, numbers or figures’.

Gaming’ is said to mean ‘the playing of a game of chance for winnings in money or money’s worth and for the avoidance of doubt, includes gambling.’

Betting’ is said to mean ‘making or accepting a bet on-

(a) the outcome of a race, competition or other event or process;

(b) the likelihood of anything occurring or not occurring; or

(c) whether anything is or is not true.’ (Section 1)

These three definitions are a mouthful but not as thick as their final intention: profit for the operator a.k.a licensee a.k.a licence holder. When a capitalist mind sees the odds a gambler gives, it seizes the chance. This is what gambling houses do. They run lotteries, place bets on outcomes of games, mostly games of little value to a local consumer earning below average income for a household in a developing country.

Running a Lottery

Lotteries are chances. In medieval times, people cast lots. The winner took it all. Today, lotteries are supervised by an elective Board, having powers to issue, deny, alter or cancel a licence. The Board’s supervisory role assumes that the gaming Board ‘protects citizens from adverse effects of gaming and betting’, but that is a concern for another day.

Did you know that;

  1. You pay tax on your gambling?
  2. This tax is placed in a ‘Consolidated Fund’ run by the government?
  3. As a matter of fact, the fund funds the activities of a Lotteries Board one way or another?
  4. The funds are appropriated to the Board by your legislators? (Section 15)
  5. Should you operate a lottery, a certain fee is deducted from the business through licensing, applications and other fees you pay to be in business?
  6. 1% of the annual turnover of every lottery, gaming or betting business licensed is collected by the Board?

Well, now you know!

It is important to note that this business venture fetches revenue to the country. Regrettably, this revenue does not return a chronic gambler to sanity. The love for a win induces one to return to the gambling house. That is why lawmakers tighten laws betting houses operate on even though gamblers as young as sixteen bet.

Operating a gambling premise

All gambling houses are registered. Registration is evidenced by a licence. Be it one running a public lottery like a Lotto or a private establishment running a sports bet, all houses must have licences.

A licence gives a licensee the right to operate a casino, bingo, pool betting, and gaming The licences also allow holders to develop ‘more’ software for gambling. [Section 27 (2) (h)]

A licence is valid for a year, normally until 31st December of every year regardless of which month it was issued. Renewing it must be done at least (2) months before its expiry for a business to continue.

‘Serious and repeated breach of the licence conditions’ or ‘any fraud or intentional misrepresentation by the person who applied for the licence’ can get a licence suspended or revoked. Before it’s suspended or revoked, the Board gives 14days to the licensee to defend itself. There is a fine to be imposed should the Board find the licensee guilty.


All casinos, gaming and betting operators pay a ‘gaming tax’ in addition to other taxes. These taxes are determined by the Minister. Failure to pay taxes in time, the licensee is entitled to pay all the tax plus ‘interest equal to 2% of the outstanding amount for each week or part of the week that the tax remains unpaid’. (Section 49)

All houses must also file tax returns by the 15th day of the following month. There is a penalty for failing to file tax returns and it’s not a miser.

Specific rules for a casino


A casino must have premises. These premises are inspected and a licence is given specifically to the operator. It specifies the casino’s premise and usually includes other conditions like; the ‘minimum number of persons that may be employed in the casino’. It also may ‘restrict the class of casino game for a specific premise or specify rules to be followed in that game’.


Managers, gaming/betting operators, money movers within the casino e.t.c must also be licensed. (See section 31)


The intending operator must prove that it has a set minimum capital for the gambling business. Sometimes a licence is given on condition that the operator has ‘a security bond in the nature and amount specified by the Minister’.


Every machine the casino uses is inspected by the Ministry officials and approved for use. All software developed, borrowed, imported or altered must be approved by the same office.

Age limit:

Did you know that

  1. Only persons 25years and above are eligible to participate in a lottery or gamble?
  2. A licensee is not allowed to accept payment from a minor?
  3. A licensee is not allowed to accept a minor to access or enter a casino or gaming and betting premise?
  4. If he/she/it does the above is guilty of an offence punishable by a fine and imprisonment to up to (4) years or both?
  5. Adults are not allowed to gamble on behalf of minors?
  6. Licensees must display a notice barring minors from accessing a lottery, bet, gamble on the premises?
  7. There are certain items not permitted in a casino, gaming or betting premise? Items like guns, shotguns, machine guns, saline, explosives, knives and chloroform and acid are prohibited.
  8. There is a ‘National central electronic monitoring system’ detecting and monitoring activities of a gambling den?
  9. Forging tickets is a crime and anyone found guilty can pay a fine, be jailed not more than (2) years or both?

If you didn’t, now you know!

Touching a slot machine can be tempting to many. To some, it is an addiction. So, get your pockets checked. Losing your life, property or family should not be a matter of a bet. If your investment or life’s savings are worth a chip and slot, you bet.


This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 3, Issue 5 of March 31st 2017

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