Kenyans explore sports betting to make quick money
It is estimated by now that about 23 companies have been licensed as operators of the new and obviously lucrative gambling business.
Applications from many more are at various stages of consideration before approvals are granted, according to the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB).
mCHEZA, a firm associated with Julie Gichuru, the hugely successful TV personality, is the latest operator to be approved only this month.
"We have invested in lottery. Gaming (betting) is the newest passion in local sports. It is interesting to bet but you shouldn't be addicted," Gichuru is quoted to have said after unveiling the business.
However far from her caution to prospective players, most of the estimated 2 million gamers in Kenya – according to modest estimates, could have long been addicted to betting.
Not a single independent study has valued the worth of sport betting in Kenya, perhaps because it just hit the tipping point, but everyone including internet café operators agrees it has exploded.
Gamers who do not own smart phones will drop by such cafes to learn about the upcoming games, the participants and their winning record. Call it appraising the horse they are placing their money on!
Sports Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario believes the entry of global betting giants including Betways – the sponsors of the English Premier League club West Ham, and Greek's Intralot, only confirmed the size of the emerging industry and its potential value.
"The betting industry has not been formally evaluated in terms of its actual monetary worth, but it runs into billions of shillings if properly exploited," Mr Wario said. It has remained a largely lackluster sector for decades until last year, even when in the neighbouring Uganda it has been big business for over a decade.
"The entry of big players and the diversification of the betting products could most certainly attract more customers and increase the revenue," added the CS, who projects that the growth momentum will be sustained.
He acknowledges that the number of active gamers is huge, but could not immediately provide a number until later in the week when the statistics are collated from the almost two-dozen operators.
An official at the BCLB said it was common for users to be signed up across the various platforms, suggesting that the operator with the largest subscriber base of about 2 million is a fair estimate of gamers in Kenya.
About 300,000 users play for the multi-shilling jackpot every week, according to an insider in one of the operators, where each gamer bets Sh100 per set.
It is common for users to bet on different several combinations of wins, draws and losses for the target games, so as to increase the chances of landing on the right combination.
A middle-aged man identified himself as Mwenda when we approached him, and shared his lucky and not-so lucky escapades in the craze of sport betting. Despite never hitting the jackpot in the 10 months he has been actively betting, every weekend is a thrill as he and his fellowship of gamers literally get down to business of making predictions.
"We have not won yet and we are doing that even tomorrow," Mwenda says. The closest they have come to a win in the jackpot is 7 correct predictions out of the set of 13 matches. In the Sportpesa gaming platform, for instance, a gamer who gets 10 correct predictions in the set wins a tidy sum, often more than Sh70,000.
That amount is however tiny, when compared to the jackpot that can be as high as Sh30 million. Lotto, another operator that re-entered the country in November announced an unprecedented jackpot amount of Sh100 million.
By whichever measures, hitting the jackpot will certainly be life-changing and is an allure most cannot ignore.
For many of these gamers, betting has become an everyday event that involves games, some so bizarre such as ice hockey and greyhound racing. Yet, some of the games would be played in countries like Iceland - which an ordinary Kenyan would struggle to locate on the World map.
A comment posted on social network days before last Christmas, perhaps perfectly captures the sensation that gaming has become. "Sport betting in Kenya looks like the new girl in class," a user identified as Waweru Njogu posted on his Twitter account, excitement of gaming to that shared by (possibly teenage) boys on arrival of a new female student in their class.
"Disappointments are normal, but I always look back to the time I won big for consolation," said a bank manager who requested anonymity, revealing that he once walked away with Sh72,000 from an investment of Sh100.
His win came three years ago in an outlet housed by the former Odeon Cinema Building along Nairobi's Tom Mboya Street.
An in-house survey has revealed the popularity of sport betting, aided in part by ease of placing a bet through a combination of letters, numbers and alphanumeric characters punched on the mobile phone.
All one needs to play is to be a registered user with any of the 23 service providers, and have money in their virtual wallets.
Sportpesa, the firm thought to be having the biggest number of registered users in the country, revealed that its more than 1.5 million active subscribers to its service. An official of the firm said the number could actually be higher today as the numbers were from earlier last week.
It has been an unprecedented growth, David Akungah who had resisted placing his first bet and has since become a regular gambler.
"I have spent a lot in betting but I am lucky to have won even more," Mr Akungah, a mechanical technician, said while acknowledging that most of the other gamblers he knows in person have lost.
He has spent a total of Sh12, 000 and earned more than Sh18, 500, from the account statements from the virtual wallet. "I am in the money still," he added, indicating that he would keep playing in anticipation of landing on the big win.
One source of inspiration for Akungah, and many other gamers, is businessman George Mwangi who hit Sh29.6 million win in September.
Mwangi, a confessed fan of domestic soccer league holders Gor Mahia, revealed that he had played many times before striking the fortune.
He, like many gamers, kept a close tally of all his expenditure as if it would make any difference if he never won. In total, his cumulative bets were worth Sh16,000 over the previous many months. Even then, he had still won smaller amounts but this specific win was unprecedented.
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