Government has defended its decision to suspend slot gaming machines, saying owners did not comply with provisions of standards, security safeguards and responsible gaming.
This, officials say, resulted into proliferation of rogue gaming businesses across the country.
Citing law N°58/2011 of 31/12/2011 governing the gaming activities in Rwanda, the Minister for Trade and Industry Francois Kanimba, stated that owners of slot machines, popularly known as ‘Ikiryabarezi’, failed to observe minimum standards, restrictions and rules for the gaming premises.
Others have simply been operating without a license, officials say.
The directive, which took immediate effect, was issued yesterday morning.
Speaking to The New Times yesterday, Jean Claude Mushimire, the official in charge of Goods in Services at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (Minicom), said the decision was informed by an ongoing inspection, which established gross inconsistencies.
This, he said, prompted them to suspend their operations until the inspection is concluded countrywide and a subsequent report will determine the way forward.
He said it was paramount to ensure standards are observed and consumers protected from unscrupulous operators.
“We have come to observe in our inspection that such businesses were ambitiously going astray and out of control, many of the business owners were contravening articles 34, 35 and 36 of the law governing gaming in the country.
“The slot machines need to be well regulated, because we realised the business has started to be operational at a large-scale and spanning out of control. There has been public outcry; even minors were now playing.”
He further stated that they have received complaints from the public that the unregulated way these machines have been spread across the country has led to break-up of families.
Article 34 of the law provides for a responsible gaming where operators are urged to identify players who may have a problem of compulsive and addictive gaming and be able to support them and or restrict them not to put their wealth at stake.
In some parts of the country, local leaders had taken an initiative to close the machines, which, among others, are blamed for breeding the culture of laziness, but they found themselves constrained by the law.
The machines are also said to be inhibiting the culture of saving, which the country is trying to promote, officials say.
Operators speak out
While gaming companies also believe that a lot still needs to be done as far as compliance with laws is concerned, they blame hostile intruders, mostly some unscrupulous Chinese operators who supplied the slot machines to shops in trading centres across the country.
These machines, some operators say, are given to shop owners for free and claim 20 per cent of the proceeds from gaming.
While article 35 provides that a person licensed to engage in or make available gaming activities must ensure the convenience of the premises on top of meeting requirements, some people had gone as far as placing the slot machines close to primary schools knowing that it is prohibited for children under the age of 18.
“We know of a number of people, including Chinese businessmen who traversed the country distributing these machines and claim 20 per cent of the money won. What we are asking the government is to do some cleaning and crackdown on these people, we can even help,” said Eric Dushime, the owner of INDE Co Ltd, a betting company that has an outlet in the Remera area in Gasabo District in Kigali.
He said that their reputation was being tainted by such operators.
“It is not hard to track these people, even local leaders know about them. They should be pushed to register and abide by the gaming rules or get out of the business if they cannot adjust,” he said.
According to Mushimire, only five companies are licensed to operate slot machine businesses.
The law further states that any license holder operating a gaming premise must prominently display at the entrance in the designated area the license issued; maintain adequate control and supervision of gaming machines and gaming device at the site during the hours of operation and or make available for viewing or on request rules of all games and odds payable on those games to all visitors.
However the ministry, which called on law enforcers to make sure the new directive is respected, on the other hand did not ban casinos, lotteries, sport books and or internet gaming.
The slot machine, according to the law, is any mechanical, electrical or other device, contrivance or machine which, upon insertion of a coin, token or similar object, or upon payment of any consideration, is available to play or operate.