Kenyans gambled Sh83 billion through M-Pesa in six months


Man watches soccer match and bets on the game. [Courtesy]

Kenyans gambled Sh83.2 billion via M-Pesa in the six months to September 2021, offering a peek into the multi-billion-shilling sports betting industry.

This was double the betting cash that was channeled through the mobile money transfer service in a similar period last year, according to financial results released by M-Pesa parent company Safaricom yesterday.

This translates into Sh422.2 million betting cash going through the platform in a day. 

The cash was more than the total output of the country’s health sector in the first half of 2021, according to official data that was also released yesterday by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Activities in the sports betting industry have risen sharply after the return of popular gaming firm SportPesa, once a giant before it went down for a brief spell after an intense period of crackdown by the government.

The government has sought to curtail betting, saying it is associated with a lot of social and economic ills. Betting companies have repeatedly denied claims that they are conduits for money laundering.

An industry player, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, said they did not understand how the betting cash spiked as their numbers declined.

“Following the ban on advertisement and increased taxes, our performance has been bad,” said the source, adding that it might be that their competitors’ performance improved substantially.

The financials indicated that during the six months, there were 347.8 million betting transactions on M-Pesa, an increase of 84.7 per cent from 188.3 million in the period to September last year.

Safaricom received Sh2.95 billion from betting compared to Sh1.48 billion that the company made in six months to September 2020.

This was the company’s second highest earnings income from “betting and payments” behind revenues from what consumers paid businesses for goods and services, or C2B, where Safaricom received Sh5.51 billion.

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, with critics saying it is growing at the expense of more productive activities.

The increased ‘sin’ of betting has also attracted the taxman. Excise duty on betting is now 30 per cent, spread to all gaming transactions including prize competitions and non-charitable lotteries.

What a customer gets after winning a bet attracts an excise duty of 15 per cent.

After the recent rebasing of the economy, the contribution of crop farming to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk dramatically while that of economic activities such as betting, repair of mobile phones and laptops, restaurants and ICT has swelled.

A study done by GeoPoll and Ipsos in 2019 found that close to 60 per cent of Kenyans aged 18 years and above had participated in gambling in the past.

Of those who gamble, the study found, 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.

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