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We should be wary of the online gambling boom

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We should be wary of the online gambling boom

Multi-faceted actions necessary to prevent this crime

VISUAL: STAR

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VISUAL: STAR

The government’s disclosure that at least 50 lakh people are engaged in online gambling has come as a shock to many. Its proliferation is concerning for several reasons. Besides this activity being illegal, its addictive nature, inherent monetary risks, and potential connection to criminal activities and platforms also make this a social threat, especially for the young people who are most vulnerable to it.

One may even argue that the prevalence of online gambling is more disturbing than casino-based and other traditional gambling activities because anyone with a smartphone or digital device can access betting and gaming websites, take part in this illegal activity, and complete monetary transactions using mobile financial services (MFS)—without the knowledge of their family members and well-wishers. In fact, the daily Manab Zamin quoted the ICT state minister on the popularity of online gambling among young people as well as retired persons.

Although the minister told the media that gambling websites are being shut down regularly, the circulation of surrogate advertisements by betting companies on social media platforms, YouTube, and even television channels during sports events remains a concern. According to Prothom Alo report, several Bangladesh government websites too are riddled with pop-up betting pages/ads. There have been reports of the involvement of celebrities in the promotion of these illegal activities. Fake videos of celebrities were also used to lure the audience. The recent disclosure by the state minister for finance about the involvement of personal MFS accounts in money laundering through online gambling and betting further highlights the danger.

Clearly, stricter interventions are required by the relevant institutions, including Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), who must coordinate with social media platforms to regulate access to such sites. Existing legal provisions also need to be updated to better address this threat. Those promoting gambling must also be monitored and regulated. Awareness campaigns are equally necessary to educate people about this social ill. In the long run, the government should focus on improving people’s financial security so that economic desperation does not push anyone towards risky activities like gambling.

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