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If there is one notable social ill in the country, it is gambling.  Recognising this, it was banned a long time ago, long before some of the victims of, what the former (late) Home Minister Tamshi Jagar described as, an “extortion business,” were even born.

They realised that it was bad and that there were no winners.  The issue reached the National Assembly and the activity was banned.  That was in 1977.

Today, 38 years later, we are still dealing with the problem.  Nothing much has changed, except the amounts at stake and duration of the sessions.  When stakes are bigger, so are repercussions.

Gambling could have started as a harmless social event, then referred to as “time pass.”  That might have been the case initially.  But as it involves money and is an easy way to make some, it is addictive, worse than substance abuse.  What it is leaving behind are broken families and huge debts.  These problems were foreseen a long time ago, therefore the ban.

Talk about gambling today and we hear not stories of big winners but of losers, people absconding to escape debt repayment, of selling family heirlooms and life savings as they gamble their lives away.  The biggest losers are the children.  Then there are people missing work because of long hours, sometimes an entire weekend, sitting at gambling tables.  Productivity is hurt and so is service delivery.  It gets worse if heads of departments or organisations are engaged.

Between now and the first ban, several attempts had been made to enforce the ban, but in vain.  Given the consequences, this is one ban that should have been enforced a long time ago.  It has not.  And it has not because hardcore gambling was more common among the rich and the educated, those with money and authority.  That’s why it is not surprising to see people in authority falling victim to this addiction.

It is surprising that raids fail, because everybody seems to know who is gambling, when and where.  The courts know that the monetary cases that come to them are related to gambling.  If we are serious about this cancer, there are many ways to root it out.  The simplest is to be strict with enforcing the law.

We have stricter rules and have punished people for, say, bringing in a few more packets of tobacco than the law prescribed.  Given the consequences left behind, gambling must be strictly banned and monitored.  It will save families and lives.

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