Kenyans gamble Sh463m daily through M-Pesa in sports betting craze

Mpesa logo at a Safaricom shop along Banda Street, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenyan gamblers placed bets worth Sh463 million daily through Safaricom’s M-Pesa platform in the financial year ended March 2022, showing the extent of the sports betting craze.

The telco’s disclosures show a 23.8 per cent jump in betting revenues through M-Pesa which grew from Sh136.6 billion in the previous financial year to Sh169.1 billion during the period under review. The rise is despite Government increasing taxes and tightening advertising rules to cut gambling which has since become a multi-billion industry.

The total money spent on betting is more than enough to fund Kenya’s universal health coverage budget (Sh62.3 billion) and construct roads and bridges (Sh103.7 billion) in the financial year starting July. Safaricom revealed that there were 732.3 million betting transactions on M-Pesa in the review period, an increase of 39.3 per cent from 525.6 million in the period to March last year.

The telco received Sh5.98 billion from betting compared to the Sh4.26 billion that the company made in the previous financial year. The advent of mobile technology, mobile money services and increased internet penetration has made betting easy in Kenya.

Unemployment among the youth has also fueled gambling activities with critics saying the vice is growing at the expense of more productive activities.

The increased ‘sin’ of betting has also attracted the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Excise duty on betting is now 30 per cent which is spread to all gaming transactions including prize competitions and non-charitable lotteries. The National Treasury is, through the Finance Bill 2022, proposing to increase excise duty on betting, gaming, prize competition and lottery from 7.5 per cent to 20 per cent.

A joint survey released mid-December last year by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) Kenya showed punters are now spending Sh939 on average weekly compared with Sh2,559 in 2019. The reduced spending came come on the back of increased State campaigns against betting, the introduction of taxes on winnings and regulation of gambling advertisements.

The proportion of the population that perceives betting as a source of income has also declined from 22.7 per cent in 2019 to 11.2 per cent in 2021, with the frequency of betting also falling.

“This could be partly attributed to the government’s deliberate measures to combat irresponsible and illegal betting in 2019 and increased public awareness against betting,” said the survey.

Only 13.9 per cent of members of households surveyed in the report said they were actively engaging in betting this year.

About 15.9 per cent of respondents said they bet daily compared to 22.6 per cent in 2019.

The proportion of those betting weekly has also declined from 51.7 per cent to 41.4 per cent while those betting monthly have risen to eight per cent from 6.9 per cent.