A critical analysis of the betting craze in Kenya

*Long post warning: Profound Read:*

It is 6am in my village of Kamagambo. A young man has just woken up, ready to face the day. He dropped out of school in Form 2, married a Girl from a neighbouring village who dropped out of school in class 7. With a child on the way, he has no prospects of a better future. He will never get a job in this country. But he has to raise his family –so he becomes a Boda-Boda operator.

Before he leaves his house, he logs into the SportPesa website and places a 100 shillings bet. His hope? To hit the midweek jackpot. Mark you; he makes 600 shillings in a day. The owner of the Boda-Boda he operates demands 300 shillings daily. That leaves him with 300 shillings to raise his family. However, for the past three months, he’s been placing 100-shilling bets on SportPesa every single day.

In Kawangware, a construction worker has just left his one-roomed house. In the house are his wife and two kids. He earns 500 shillings whenever he finds work. Like the young man in Kamagambo, he logs into the BetWay website, and wagers 100 shillings. He’s done that dutifully for the past six months. He got lucky once and won 20K. This only served to whet his appetite. Whenever he doesn’t have the money, he goes to his M-Shwari, borrows 100 shillings, and uses the same to place bets.

What the two do not understand, is that they are at the mercy of probability and statistics. Let us do some Math here, Shall we? To hit the jackpot, one has to accurately predict the outcome of 13 matches. Suppose we have team A playing against B, then there will be three possible outcomes. Either A will win, or B will win, or they will draw. Now, if you factor the total outcomes in one match with 13 different matches, you get roughly 1.6 million. So these two jobless men with families do not know that their chances of winning the mid-week or weekend jackpot is one-out-of-1.6 million.

In simple terms, there is no formula for winning the BetWay or SportPesa jackpot. It all boils down to luck. And for every 1.6 million people who place bets, only 1 has the chances of winning. Let me give you the data on sports betting in Kenya. We all love data, Right? Because data has this way of hitting us with reality. According to a recent study conducted by Geopoll Survey, Kenya has the highest number of betting youth in Sub-Saharan Africa. 96 percent of Kenyans aged between 18 and 35 participate in gambling.

The current population of Kenyans aged between 18 and 35 stands at 17 million. So around 16.3 million Kenyan youth bet. Now this figure is even conservative because people over the age of 35 bet. Now let us as say that out of this number, 10 million place bets of 100 shillings every day hoping to hit the jackpot. That means these betting companies receive 7 billion from poor jobless Kenyans every week. It can take months before they have a jackpot winner. In essence, by the time they parade one Kenyan who’s won the 300 million jackpot on our TV screens, they have probably made hundreds of billions of shillings.

But what are the consequences of this betting craze? It is said in betting circles that for you to increase your chances of winning, place larger bets. Where does a jobless Kenyan get 1K or 5K to wager? Aha! There’s this little thing call digital lending that has gotten us so excited. So he’ll quickly download his Branch App and in a matter of minutes, he has the 2K he needs to place the bet. So at the end of the day, we have jobless Kenyans who continue increasing their debt levels. This phenomenon, ladies and gentlemen, is not just catastrophic to the social welfare of our young people, but also to the economic health of our nation. A debt-fuelled economy is like a house of cards. It will continue growing and growing then come tumbling down when you least expect.

What is even more perverse is the proliferation of betting companies in Kenya that make billions of dollars in annual revenues from poor Kenyans. The 100 shillings that they collect from millions of vulnerable Kenyans has made them sponsor an EPL club. I read recently that the SportPesa CEO drives a Mercedes Mayback. It sickens me. It is immoral to make millions of dollars by taking advantage of the poor.

Because the government cannot stop gambling companies from taking money from the poor, it is us to tell this vulnerable population that sport betting can never be an investment. If anyone tells you that this can be a full-time profession; if you pay through your nose to join these WhatsApp groups that promise sure bets; you are engaging in a zero-sum game. Ronald Karaori and his company are turning young Kenyans into zombies who idle their days away, fantasizing about quick riches, and incurring huge debts so that a few people can drive Mercedes Maybachs.

Finally, the gambling market in this country is too liberal. SportPesa and these betting companies cannot continue holding this country at ransom with scaremongering tactics of job losses or moving their operations to other countries. For all I care let them move to Timbuktu of wherever they want to go. But we have to protect our vulnerable populations.

As we head into the weekend, know that your chances of winning that jackpot are at best, one-in-1.6 million!

FYI: 100 Kenyan shillings equal $1

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