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Gambling alive and well amid Covid-19 ravages

By Peter Theuri | October 19th 2021

The sports betting industry is alive and well despite the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy. [Courtesy]

When popular online gaming platform Sportpesa’s licence was revoked in 2019, Samuel Ndirangu thought he had finally found a way out of gambling.  

“I thought it was the beginning of a saving plan. I even deleted other betting apps that I had downloaded on my phone,” he says. 

Turns out Ndirangu was wrong. As is common with every other form of addiction, the withdrawal symptoms followed within days.

Soon, he was back at it, reinstalling all the betting apps he had deleted.

And within a couple of months, his favourite betting platform, Sportpesa, was back in business after a long-drawn court battle amid accusations of failure to meet its tax obligations in Kenya.

His friend Karanja suffered the same fate, with attempts to kick out the habit proving futile. 

But one day, a mysterious punter targeted him with a flurry of manipulated bets that yielded odds of 500.

With only Sh20, Karanja wagered a bet and to his surprise, he won Sh10,000.

“I changed my mind overnight. I wanted to continue betting,” says Karanja.

Ndirangu and Karanja present a large number of Kenyans who are hooked to sports betting, with the number of operators growing significantly over the last few years.

Sportpesa had for long controlled the market, and the withdrawal of its trading licence two years ago had been billed as a death blow to the firm’s operations and gaming industry in the country.

The sports betting industry, however, is alive and well despite the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, with Sportpesa also back in business.

Males made up the bulk of gamblers at 69 per cent against 44 per cent for females. [Courtesy]

As of last September, Kenya had 47 public gaming operators licensed by the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB).

These include 93 bookmarkers and 19 public lottery operators. Kenyans’ thirst for gambling seems insatiable.

BCLB is the body mandated with the regulation and control of betting, lotteries and gaming in the country as well as protecting the public against fraud·

The board is also responsible for the recovery of taxes, and the authorisation of lotteries and prize competitions as well as eradication of illegal gambling. 

Slotegrator, an iGaming industry’s software and business solutions provider for online casinos and sportsbooks operators, earlier in the year noted that the Kenyan gambling market was estimated at $40 million (Sh4.3 billion) last year.

And it was reported to have grown rapidly despite the worldwide Covid-19 crisis, which has devastated economies, forcing many to live from hand to mouth.  

“Currently, Kenya is the third in sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to sheer market size (after South Africa and Nigeria) but has the highest number of young gambling players in the region. Young Kenyans already spend more money on gambling on average than youth in other African countries,” wrote Slotegrator in August.

‘The Kenyan gambling market is dominated by sports betting. Like many other African nations, the most popular sport to bet on is football, with the European leagues, in particular, accounting for a considerable segment of betting preferences.”

Betting, the company observed, is followed by online poker and online casino games, but those sectors haven’t yet reached levels of popularity to compete with sportsbooks. 

A rise in the number of bookmarkers as football betting continues to generate massive revenues has seen punters become more aggressive.

This has impacted sports negatively, with some players also seeking to benefit from the betting industry through match-fixing.  

UK’s newspaper The Guardian in February reported that sport was facing “a massive spread in the cancer of match-fixing during the Covid-19 era.” 

Of those aged 18 and above in Kenya, 57 per cent had participated in gambling in the past, according to Geopoll. [Courtesy]

“Experts at Sportradar, seen by FIFA as the global leader on detecting match manipulation, tracked more than 600,000 matches across 26 sports in 2020 and saw a steep rise in suspicious betting activity in football friendlies,” Guardian reported.

“In the past, match-fixers have targeted sports and leagues with huge profits and high turnovers, such as football, tennis and basketball. But now they have diversified,” said Andreas Krannich, the managing director of Sportradar Integrity Services. 

Numerous suspicious cases of match-fixing were flagged last year across Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Armenia.

Match-fixing does not only happen in the little-known leagues. In November 2010, BBC reported that experts had revealed that some 300 football games in a season were fixed in Europe’s top leagues.

In 2019, research company Geopoll conducted a study that found that out of those aged 18 and above in Kenya, 57 per cent had participated in gambling in the past. 

Males made up the bulk of gamblers at 69 per cent against 44 per cent for females.

“Of those who gamble, 47 per cent are light gamblers who place bets once a month or less, and only 10 per cent of gamblers place bets more than once a day. The study finds that gambling is most popular among males aged between 25 and 34, of whom 77 per cent have gambled in the past, with 58 per cent of this group gambling at least once a week,” noted Geopoll.

“Females age 35 and above are the least likely participants in gambling; only 46 per cent of this population have ever gambled.”

Of those who have not gambled in the past, 39 per cent reported that they were not interested, with 27 per cent citing the lack of money as the reason for not gambling.

“Those aged between 25 and 34 who do not participate in gambling are most likely to report that this is because of either a lack of money or the fear of losing money. Forty-eight per cent of these participants cited a money-based reason for not gambling, compared to 36 per cent of those aged 35 and above and 31 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24, suggesting that this group is interested in gambling but feels a responsibility to not spend their money on gambling,” said Geopoll.

As the wave of gambling continues to sweep across the country, those that are unable to access smartphones and have to rely on USSD codes have found themselves more alienated. Smartphones allow a better user interface as punters access more options on websites or apps.

“There are stark differences in gambling prevalence among smartphone owners vs non-smartphone owners, with just 40 per cent of those owning basic phones gambling compared to 64 per cent of smartphone owners. Females who own a basic mobile phone are the least likely to have gambled, with only 27 per cent of this group placing bets or gambling,” noted Geopoll.

Covid 19 Time Series


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