One of the first major indicators of the rise in popularity of online betting in Kenya was revealed in a poll at Kenyatta University back in 2016. The poll revealed that around 78 percent of men and 57 percent of women at the university had tried online betting. It also revealed that nearly half of them gambled at least once per week, with 80 percent of them reporting net losses.
Additional surveys by organizations such as GeoPoll revealed further data over time. It was discovered that more than three-quarters of Kenya’s youth regularly bet online with their phones using mobile money. This coincided with similar reports and stats from other African countries around the continent.
By 2018, surveys showed that up to $1.3 billion was being spent annually on betting by Kenyans, mainly via the dominant online platform, SportPesa.
Today, sports betting in Kenya is by far the country’s most popular type of betting, as well as most of Africa. It has become a well-established pastime in the country. On one side it has brought many benefits to online business and infrastructure. On the other, there have also been certain drawbacks.
Another Kenyatta University study in 2022 showed alarming results. Seven out of ten participants were diagnosed with some form of gambling disorder. The student in charge of the study at the time was an undergraduate named Nelson Bwire. Bwire became so concerned by the results, that he founded the Gaming Awareness Society of Kenya. Today it continues as a non-profit with the aim of helping to curb the negative impact of gambling.
Two Sides to a Coin
Many in Kenya, particularly in government, have called for the ban of sports betting altogether. Though various parts of the world have become open to online betting, many others have also maintained their strict non-gambling policy.
Kenya, though, has come to rely on the revenue generated by online gambling. Revenue that is very sorely needed for their ailing economy. Many betting companies are also known to have strong ties with politicians and other important members of authority in the country. For this reason, they are unlikely to be outlawed anytime soon. Otherwise, they have also provided new sources of employment, while creating much-needed infrastructure. Overall, they have greatly helped to bring Kenya into the digital age.
The Kenyan government has had some success imposing ever stricter laws, regulations, and taxes. This has helped to reign in some of the negative impacts and excesses of gambling in Kenya. Government intervention and regulation is a necessity that many nations with gambling industries, if not all, have been forced to institute over history. In 2019, the Kenyan government famously entered a dispute over outstanding taxes with 27 of the betting companies in the country. The companies included the successful and dominant SportPesa. The betting company eventually lost its license and nearly became bankrupt as a result.
The crackdown, though, did little to slow the boom in betting companies, which now number well over 99. Many believed the tighter restrictions and taxes by the government over time have been of some help. Most believe the slowdown in betting sites over 2019 and 2020, though, is more the result of the Covid19 pandemic. Though the Kenyan government has also been praised for its general embrace and handling of its new online era.
Safaricom, which controls more than 99 percent of the country’s mobile market, has become an important source of information regarding betting transactions in the country over time. SportPesa, for instance, through data provided by Safaricom, has been shown to have generated $737 million in revenue over the six months leading to September 2021. This is a $301 million increase from the same period a year before.
Future Prospects for Kenya
For good or bad, sports betting is clearly set to remain in Kenya for the foreseeable future. Many believe that the very technology that started the betting boom, could possibly also be used to curb its negative impact. Last year, for instance, Bwire and fellow concerned Kenyan Weldon Koros released an app that allows users to block the use of all betting sites on their mobile devices. The app has not been widely embraced so far. Though Bwire and Koros have had some success at universities and learning institutions in spreading the message and helping students curb problem-gambling.
The future of Kenya’s economy and betting industry remains uncertain for the time being. However, with continued strict and diligent regulation by the government, there is potential for things to improve in the coming future.