Over the last two years, slot machines have flooded Kenya’s impoverished rural communities — and children are hooked.
The loud, brightly-colored wooden machines are imported by Chinese businessmen, who hire local agents to place them in shops. In Mombasa, agents can collect up to $30,000 a day in a single area, though they hand their bosses about 80 percent of the profit.
Many of the players are kids. To combat the issue, the government recently slapped a nation-wide ban on the importation of machines from China, burning and bulldozing hundreds of machines in a symbolic display. But despite efforts by the Ministry of Interior to outlaw and seize the machines, thousands of them keep cropping up in villages across the country.
It’s illegal for anyone under 18 to gamble in Kenya but systemic corruption has allowed child gambling to flourish — despite pleas from parents and school administrators. The efforts by national law enforcement officers to confiscate machines have been undermined by the county council in Mombasa, which continue to issue “Machines & Games” licenses for $120, authorizing the slot machine use and defying central government.
A local agent employed by a Chinese company told Vice News that systemic bribery of local police officials can ensure that seized machines are returned to owners. And at the right price, children are allowed to play in plain sight.
Some young children, like 9-year-old Monica Osongi, are even stealing from their parents for a chance to win big.
“I want that game removed. I want it completely gone from Pwani because my child’s education has been affected,” said Monica’s mother, Elizabeth Akinyi.
“The police are not doing anything because if you try to stop the Chinese they tell you that they have a license that allows the game to be played — even though it’s written that only those above 18 can play but they don’t care,” she added. “They just want money.”
This segment originally aired June 19, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.