Why Kenyans have been gripped by betting craze
At least five million Kenyans have taken up betting in the last five years as part of a multi-billion- shilling betting craze that has swept the country but also raised concerns about gambling addiction.
The biggest winners from the emerging industry are local and foreign sports entities that have already bagged Sh3 billion in lucrative sponsorship deals covering several years.
Thousands of Kenyans are also winning big from the betting craze by placing as little as Sh20 in bets and reaping handsome returns although many others are squandering money designed for essential goods and losing it all.
Eleven companies have emerged to compete for the growing pie in an industry that now occupies the top tier in terms of profitability in the country.
The betting phenomenon has also given a new lease of life to thousands of cyber cafes which had been pushed out of business following the advent of mobile smart phones at the turn of the decade.
Over the last seven months, the betting firms led by SportPesa have taken the Kenyan sports scene by storm, pumping millions of shillings into various sports associations and two of Kenya’s most popular clubs, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards with a view to winning over millions of Kenyans.
And last week, SportPesa took the game a notch higher when it announced its sponsorship of one of the oldest clubs in the English Premier League, Hull City.
For a firm that is hardly five years old, not to mention that it is from a developing country in Africa, the question was where they were getting the money to sponsor the English Premier League team in the “most lucrative” deal in the club’s 112-year history worth Sh450 million for the next three years.
SportPesa is just one among several sports betting firms in the country but by far the most dominant one. Others are Betway (previously Royal Kenya Bets) which is the official sponsor of another English Premier League side, West Ham United, Betin, Betyetu, mCheza, Bet365, eazibet, Lucky2u, betPawa, Justbet and EliteBet.
Most of these firms have been in operation in the country for not more than five years.
Betting is not illegal in Kenya. The multi-billion industry is regulated by the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) under the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act of 1966.
However, the law has been playing catch up with technology as it was enacted before the era of mobile phones and the internet.
Looking at the kind of sponsorship deals the firms are entering clearly demonstrates how sports betting has become big business in the country joining the league of blue chip companies such as Safaricom, East African Breweries and KCB, among others.
Another indicator of the big money business sports betting is today is the size of the jackpots.
For instance, Betway in the past week had a jackpot of Sh14 million, SportPesa offered Sh20.4 million, Betin’s stood at Sh20 million, mCheza at Sh19.1 million, Betyetu had Sh5 million and Elitebet offered Sh13.7 million.
With such huge sums of money floating around, millions of Kenyans place bets on a daily basis.
The billions the betting firms combined have pumped into local and foreign sports entities have taken the battle for control of the millions of Kenyans entrapped in the betting craze to new levels.
Students use their school fees to bet, some with disastrous outcomes like the Kenyatta University student who committed suicide early this month in Ondome village, Migori County, after losing Sh80,000 in a football bet.
The betting craze has gripped millions and become the talk of the town in numerous areas. In one estate in Embakasi, Nairobi, a group of private guards has an exercise book where they note match timings and scores.
For these sports betting addicts, it is no longer about being a fan of a particular sports team but which bet would get them a win. For instance, it is not surprising to find a diehard Arsenal or Manchester United fan placing a bet that his favourite team will lose, just so that he can win some money.
“I started betting in the second leg of the English Premier League. I almost gave up after I lost all my bets for a full month. I was lucky the following week when I raked in Sh50,000 (the highest amount she has ever won) in a multiple bet with SportPesa,” Purity Adoyo, a fourth year student at Maseno University, said.
The billions in sports betting are not taken only by the operators, although they are the main beneficiaries. Local mobile telephone companies have also entered into revenue-sharing agreements with the betting firms to get a piece of the cake.
Similarly, the betting craze has breathed life into the cyber cafés which have been struggling with dwindling numbers because of the smart phone technology.
By March this year, BCLB estimated that sports betting in the country had an active customer base of five million. This has probably gone up in the last four months as more Kenyans get attracted to the big money prizes.
Of the five million, SportPesa, whose parent company is Pevans East Africa Ltd, was believed to have a customer base of between one and two million, leaving the other three million to be shared among its growing list of competitors.
To entice more Kenyans to join in the sports betting craze, the firms allow bets of as little as Sh20 while others have Sh100 as the minimum.