People DailySports

Gambling is a multi-million dollar business in Kenya

Nairobi, Wednesday @PeopleSport11

The grey weather had not dampened the mood at the Mozzart Betting Shop in Westlands, Nairobi.

The punters continue to loudly place their wagers in the betting store, which is one of the many that dot Kenya’s capital.

This is where I meet Ken Karanja, 29, who best embodies the gambling culture beguiling many young people in the city.

He lives in Ruaka, a cosmopolitan area about 15km (nine miles) north-west of Nairobi, and makes £22; £30 (Sh3,000) a day as a truck driver – money which he often gambles away.

“I am a betting addict. I bet Sh100 a day and Sh1,000 to Sh1,500 during weekends,” he says. He used to frequent what were known as gambling dens, which were unregulated and where children could also place bets.

In the last four years, these have closed down, to be replaced by online gambling services – with people using their mobile phones, cyber cafes or one of the chains of new betting shops to place bets online on anything from the local league to World Cup matches.

This move has made it easier for people to place bets.

Karanja has lost about $5,000 (Sh664,000) during a six-year gambling period. He bets because he wants to recover what he has lost, sometimes borrowing money or even charging his clients before doing a job. Kenya has the highest number of young people in sub-Saharan Africa – between the ages of 17 and 35 – who gamble frequently, a 2017 GeoPoll survey found.

Another study from 2016 estimated that 78 percent of university students were problem gamblers.

The country is the third-largest gambling market in Africa, after Nigeria and South Africa.

Figures from the gambling regulator, the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB), show that gross gambling revenue for the 2016/2017 financial year was $198m £151m  (Sh20 billiob) – equivalent to about half of the annual health budget.However, the allure of instant money has come at a cost.

In 2016, a university student hanged himself after losing about $790 (Sh1055,000) on a bet. Since then, more than five suicides and cases of bankruptcy, domestic violence and evictions have been reported.

To deter Kenyans from becoming problem gamblers, the government has introduced some taxes – the first, which came into affect in January, means betting firms must hand over 35 per cent of their profits. The 35 per cent tax led SportPesa to cancel all its local sports sponsorship deals in 2017 after the popular sports betting firm said the increase would negatively affect its business operations.

It has since signed new partnership agreements with Kenyan football leagues.

When asked whether the ease of online betting was proving too much of a temptation for young people, SportPesa’s communications officer, Lola Okulo, said:

“We encourage our customers to approach gaming as an entertainment activity, not as an investment or job.

“They must be open to the possibility of winning or losing.”           – BBC

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