Kenyans bet Sh83.2 billion using M-Pesa in the six months to September 2021, providing a glimpse of the multibillion-shilling sports gambling sector. This was contained in economic reports released by M-Pesa holding company Safaricom. The figure was more than quadruple the number of gaming funds handled through the mobile payment system at the same time the year before. 

This corresponds to Sh422.2 million in gambling funds passing through the facility in a single day. Official estimates by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics juxtaposed these figures with the production of the country’s health industry. It showed that gambling revenues were greater than what the health industry could produce during the first half of 2021. 

The restoration of the popular gambling business SportPesa has boosted activity in the sports betting market significantly. This came after it was closed down temporarily during an extreme time of government enforcement.

Gambling Prohibitions and their Effects

The authorities have attempted to limit gambling, claiming that it is linked to a variety of economic and social evils. Betting businesses have often disputed allegations that they are money-laundering facilitators. An industry expert stated that they could not fathom how the gambling revenue skyrocketed while their counts were declining.

“After the prohibition on advertising and additional taxes, our productivity has been poor,” said the expert. He suggested that their competitors’ output may have improved significantly. According to the financial statements, there were 347.8 million gaming activities on M-Pesa over the six-month timeframe. This represents a rise of 84.7 percent from 188.3 million in the same time the previous year.

Safaricom earned Sh2.95 billion from gambling, compared to Sh1.48 billion in the six months ending September 2020. This became Safaricom’s second-highest generating money on “betting and payments”. Such figures trail earnings from what customers paid companies for products and services, or C2B, for which Safaricom collected Sh5.51 billion. 

With the development of mobile devices, mobile payment services, and wider internet coverage, betting has become easier in Kenya. Youth unemployment has also fostered gambling, with opponents claiming that it is expanding at the cost of other beneficial pursuits. The increased ‘sin’ of gambling has also stimulated the interest of the tax department.

Economic Upsides of Betting

The excise duty on gambling has been increased to 30%, and it now applies to all gaming transactions. These include prize competitions and non-charitable raffles. What a consumer receives after having won a bet is subject to a 15% excise fee.

Following the recent rebranding of the economy, agricultural impact on the nation’s GDP has gradually decreased. But economic activities such as gambling, mobile phone, and laptop repair, ICT, and restaurants have increased.

According to a 2019 poll conducted by GeoPoll and Ipsos, about 60% of Kenyans aged 18 and up had previously engaged in betting. The poll states that 47 percent of individuals who gamble are moderate gamers who place stakes once a month or less. Meanwhile,  just 10 percent of gamblers wager more than once a day.

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