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The Anatomy of a Betting Nation

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A few days ago, I spent the day in a client’s office where I was doing some work. The office was manned by four young people, three ladies and one guy, who seemed to have graduated from college within a period of one to five years. I noticed that they spent about two hours going through the sports section of the dailies, doing some writing on their notebooks, and check some online sites while taking notes. It had not occurred to me that they were looking for betting tips, checking for odds and placing their bets online. Four employees spent two hours each trying to place bets for the evening’s games, at the expense of their employer’s time, resources and space! Welcome to Kenya, the betting nation.

The betting craze has taken Kenya by storm. The young people bet. I have seen a 70 year old betting, and old women in rural villages bet. Graduates bet and uneducated people bet even more. A research by Geopoll showed that Kenya leads the rest of Africa when it comes to betting, in terms of the number of people betting and the amount of money invested in betting. It is no wonder that 20% of adults in Kenya consider betting to be a reliable source of income. When I tried to analyse Google trends results for the keywords ‘betting tips’, the results were amazing, almost shocking. The leading countries in the world are Kenya at 100%, Uganda at 53%, and Zimbabwe at 24%. The traditional gambling nations like the UK do not feature.

The growth of betting in Kenya is best highlighted by the growth of the Kenyan betting companies. SportPesa, a Kenya betting firm already took the world by storm. This betting firm is the main sponsor of the Kenyan premier league, as well numerous other sports in Kenya such as rugby and boxing. Its impact is not just felt in Kenya. Among the big and mighty sports team that it sponsors include English Premier League Everton FC and Hull City. It also has a partnership with Arsenal, as well as Torino in Italy. The moneyed betting firm recently joined formula One and is the sponsor of SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team. No other Kenyan startup has made it this big.

But why all this betting craze? Like many other African countries, Kenya has a youthful population with a median age of about 19 years. Joblessness is high, and the number of people who live in extreme poverty stands at 29%. Advertisements by the betting firms majorly tell stories of rags to riches, and end up enticing many to bet. With these conditions, betting is a reasonable chance of escaping poverty.

Even the rich bet. In the same way that prosperity gospel is enticing people to give money with the promise of more reward, betting also seems to sell hope in the same way. Other factors have also made betting easy, such as high penetration of mobile money which allows almost anybody to do transactions online and make payment. Online lending apps also come in handy with reports saying that many people will quickly borrow money in order to bet.

It is hard to quantify the impact of betting on a society. By September 2016, 400,000 Kenyans were already blacklisted with Credit Reference Bureaus for mobile loans of less than KES 200 (USD 2)! Most of this borrowing is attributed to betting. Many employers have also lost money in terms of wasted productivity as young people spend time analysing bets and fantasizing on winning big. Gambling addiction has been said to cause problems such as family breakdown, violence and crime, debts and emotional instability. One wonders what will be the impact on Kenya in the next 15 years.

In an attempt to slow down the practice, the government recently announced a ban on advertising of gambling between 6 am and 10 pm. It also banned endorsement of gambling by celebrities, in a ban that will take effect from 30th May 2019.

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