The Lotteries and Gaming Regulatory Board (LGRB) has been launched with pomp today, with the Chief Executive Edgar Agaba urging operators to comply with the laws that govern the gaming industry.
Giving a brief background, Mr Agaba said the LGRB came into effect in April last year, and is mandated by law to supervise and regulate the establishment, management and operation of lotteries, gaming betting and casinos in Uganda, and to protect the citizens from the adverse effects of gaming and betting in Uganda.
In his speech Mr. Agaba thanked the about 40 legal operators for working with the LGRB, and promised to enhance the partnership and also to stamp out the illegal operators.
Speaking at the same occasion LGRB Board Chairman Manzi Tumubweine urged government to ensure the industry operators are taxed fairly, arguing that the gaming industry employs about 5000 people who in turn cater for about 10,000 other people.
He however, also reiterated Mr Agaba’s plea, urging the operators to comply with the industry regulations including paying taxes promptly; operating from gazette areas (the city, municipalities, town councils) and to deter under-age gaming.
“As a Board we want to focus on ‘responsible gambling’; weed out illegals; carry out sensitization across the board; ensure compliance to the law and international good practices,” Mr Tumubweine said, assuring the operators that his board would lobby MPs to internalize the essence of responsible gaming and fair taxation.
According to Mr Tumubweine, the LGRB will also talk to the Ministry of Trade and that of Local Government to see to it that gaming companies are allowed carry out activities in different parts of the country under one license.
He also weighed in on the touchy issue of taxation for the operators, which currently stands at 35 per cent, advising on the possible percentage options of the operators and punters, who are currently being taxed 15 per cent on earnings.
Speaking at the occasion, chief guest, State Minister for Finance in charge of General Duties David Bahati noted that government was in support of a fair tax regime for the operators.
‘I moved the Bill and encountered serious challenges; some of my colleagues (MPs) pointed at my moral uprightness but I told them ‘regulate or they will operate underground’,” Minister Bahati said, before adding that the matter is being debated by Parliament today and tomorrow.
“I am actually going there (Parliament) after here; so pray for me,” he joked.
However, the Minister insisted on regulation, clearly spelling out the ‘legal gaming age’, which is 25 years, before urging the operators to also participate in the enforcement of the regulations.
“I don’t know how we are going to do this but we want to ensure that people use ‘disposable income’ to game. You should also ensure that you operate in the gazette areas, not villages, so that economic activities are not distorted,” the Minister noted.
Further, the Minister promised that the LGRB would by next year procure equipment that would make the taxation processes easier for both the operators and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), and to also scale up on the LRGB human resource capacity from the current operational strength of about 25 per cent to 50 per cent by next year.
Later, Minister Bahati was joined by Board members Tumubweine and Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) Grace Akullo and, CEO Agaba, to officially launch the LRGB and to also issue licenses to the legally-permitted operators.
Invited Guests at the launch were also treated to light moments when comedian Herbert Ssegujja Mendo aka ‘President Museveni’ unexpectedly turned up after the Minister had left, sending the guests in prolonged laughter.
Meanwhile, in a related development gaming operators have donated 15 tonnes of grain to the famine-stricken people in different parts of Uganda as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which, according to an operator, one Kajura, is a key component of the partnership between the LGRB and the operators.
In his brief speech the chairman of the casino operators, city tycoon Bob Kabonero, lauded the close working relations between the LGRB, but urged the URA to be considerate while dealing with the thorny issue of taxation with the gaming companies.
“You have to feed and then milk the cow,” Mr. Kabonero, the proprietor of Uganda’s pioneer Casino, Kampala Casino, said.