Betting companies are experiencing unprecedented success in Kenya, but the lure of an easy buck has led to addiction, depression and even suicides in the East African country. EURACTIV Germany reports.
In one of the most historic moments in the Kenyan sports scene, a local online sports betting company in July this year announced that it had entered into a partnership to sponsor English Premier League club Hull City.
SportPesa, a betting company, started in 2013, had managed to accumulate revenue enough to fund major premier leagues in Kenya before breaking into the international arena. It is one among many betting companies that have sprouted up in Kenya promising instant wealth and have managed to marshal a fanatic following mainly from those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
The industry’s regulator, Betting Control and Licensing Board, (BCLB) estimates there are close to 30 licensed bookmakers with sports betting licenses in Kenya.
About ten of the operators target mobile phone users and cash in on the growing penetration of mobile phones across the country coupled with the rise of mobile money. A report by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) shows that the yearly turnover of the sports betting industry in the country is worth some $20 million and will reach $50million in three years as appetite grows.
Kenya, and by extension Africa, has become a lucrative ground for betting companies owing to the continent’s favourable and lenient laws on betting.
So entrenched is the industry that one betting company MCHEZA has moved beyond sports to offer its betting enthusiasts a chance to predict who the winner of the US presidential elections in November will be.
Images of winners receiving hefty cheques are displayed in the media on daily basis. A majority of the winners are ordinary citizens; mechanics, cooks and university students. It is this appeal that has been attracting more who identify with the winners who once lived the ordinary lives they live.
But behind the façade and the media fanfare are stories of depression, broken homes and in some instances suicide as the betting craze gains ground in Kenya.
Psychologists point to a worrying trend where those who bet, especially young people, no longer treat betting as a form of entertainment but as a way of making money.
“The youth in this country is supposed to be the most productive. They have talent, energy and are at a time when they should be teeming with productivity. But what we have is a worrying number of young people who think they can get money without working for it. It is fanning a culture of laziness,” said Dr.Crispus Anakwa, a psychologist who has treated numerous cases of depression, many associated with frustrations after losing bets.
Only recently, Kennedy Kosgei from Eldoret in Western Kenya took a loan of $500 from a local bank and used it to place a wager on Spanish football club Real Madrid. The team lost to fierce rivals Atletico. Kennedy was later found hanging from a tree.
In the same match, a bank cashier in Nairobi took $5,000 and placed a bet which he also lost. His wife left him after learning of the loss.
Even though the betting companies advocate responsible betting and spell out strict terms and conditions, few if any of the gamblers read these conditions. The motive is to place as many bets as possible, which start for as little as 50 cents to increase the chances of winning.
Martin Kimwaki who once had a flourishing career as a marketing manager for a leading real estate company in East Africa a job he had held for a decade as he could not sate his growing addiction to betting.
“What started as a form of entertainment for me degenerated into an addiction that not only left me with no money but also cost me my job. I would use up to three quarters of my salary on betting. Whenever I lost my bets I would spend more money to try to get them back but I kept on losing,” Kimwaki explained.
Things spiralled out of control for him when his salary was not enough for gambling and so he would take loans from the company. At times due to the stress of multiple losses he would go AWOL. It was only a matter of time before he was fired.
The harrowing tales which have now reached epidemic proportions have seen the Kenyan parliament mulling introducing a law to tame the industry and also seen Cabinet Secretary of Sports and Culture Dr Hassan Wario issue a directive to stop any further registration of sports betting companies.
In the meantime, the number of those joining the betting craze grows as do the ripple effects of losses from betting.