A Kenyatta University poll in 2016 revealed that 78% of male and 57% of female students have tried betting. More importantly, the poll revealed that almost 50% put down bets on a weekly basis. Similar statistics are seen across other African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa. Most telling is that the majority of bets in these regions are placed using mobile phones.

In 2018 it was reported that Kenyans spent an incredible $1.3 billion annually on betting. The SportPesa mobile platform stood at the center of this lucrative market. The numbers seemed positive, but another trend was also discovered. 

Nelson Bwire conducted a second poll at Kenyatta. He discovered that around 7 out of 10 students showed signs of problem gambling. The information came as a shock, and Bwire founded the Gaming Awareness Society of Kenya. Students at the university are now able to approach society for help with problem gambling.

During counseling, Bwire learned that some students have had to leave their studies due to betting away tuition funds. Thus it became clear that problems exist in the growing market.

Problem Gambling Challenges and Regulations

Some lawmakers have suggested that Kenya ban sports betting entirely. Middle Eastern and Asian regions have banned betting, suggesting that such a big step is possible. In Kenya the situation is different. The local government has reported having financial issues for years. The tax derived from betting provides a much-needed injection of funds.

In 2019, there were talks of a stronger regulatory system. This bill did not pass, with many suggesting that harsher regulations would be economically devastating. Betting companies also employ thousands. Even still there are signs that the government has managed to bring the industry under control.

A new aggressive tax was introduced on stakes and winnings. This step saw many bettors cutting back on spending. The Central Bank has also been granted the power to oversee digital money lenders. More importantly, the Betting Control And Licensing Board (BCLB) banned online sportsbooks from daytime advertising.

In July 2019 the biggest development in the local market occurred.

A New Era

In July 2019 the BCLB denied 27 company license renewals. Many of the organizations owed a fortune in back taxes, and most could not cough up the money. Previous industry giant SportsPesa was among them. Some of the companies did eventually pay, but many faded away entirely

It was a big development, but it didn’t stop a growing market. Today, there are 99 licensed operators in Kenya. This is more than before the crackdown by the BCLB. More operators are being granted licenses on an almost monthly basis.

According to BCLB director, Peter Mbugi betting numbers are actually declining. In a recent interview, Mbugi claimed that the total annual amount staked nationwide is lower than in 2019. He did not provide specific numbers but explained that the local market is changing. He elaborated that stronger regulations and gambling awareness are having an impact.

Safaricom Paints a Different Picture

Despite the words of Mbugi other data paints a different picture. Safaricom controls 99% of the mobile money market, and the company hasn’t been shy about sharing statistics. According to a report the company’s M-Pesa network has seen a surge in transactions. Betting-related transactions totaled $737 million for the period ending September 2021. That is a big increase over the $436 million of the same period in 2020.

These incredible numbers are only set to increase. International giant Betway has shown great interest in Kenya and other African countries. The mega-corporation operates locally and in 6 other African regions, with plans to expand even further. Marketing lead for Betway Kenya Karen Njerenga confirmed that the company is looking to push into other areas in Africa. Chalkline Sports meanwhile has referred to Africa’s untapped betting market as incredible.

Negating the Potential Harm

There is no question that as beneficial as the betting industry is it can also cause harm. Activists like Bwire are now taking steps to help. He and fellow activist Weldon Koros have launched an app that aims to assist punters. The software aims to restrict gambling sites on mobile devices, helping problem gamblers avoid temptation.

More importantly, Koros and Bwire have also been pushing universities to block gambling sites entirely. They have found success in many cases but some universities have also refused. The biggest success of the lobbyists is getting Safaricom to launch a mobile device smart payment system. The system restricts tuition fees from being directly diverted to gambling apps.

A positive story is that of Kevin Kegara. After realizing that betting was not for him he went on instead to use FXPesa. FXPesa allows for the trading of foreign currencies. He concluded that many students will likely do the same once they realize the reality of the odds.

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