Why online betting continues to flourish despite tough laws

In Summary

• Kenya is ranked amongst the top three gambling markets in sub-Saharan Africa, along with South Africa and Nigeria, and the East African nation is showing no signs of slowing down.

• There are many driving forces behind online betting, but the most obvious reason behind the rapid growth of betting in Kenya is that it offers an opportunity to make easy money. 

A man analyses the odds at a popular betting site
BETTING: A man analyses the odds at a popular betting site
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

Kenya has some of the toughest betting laws in Africa, but the country continues to be one of the front-runners in online betting on the continent.

Kenya is ranked amongst the top three gambling markets in sub-Saharan Africa, along with South Africa and Nigeria, and the East African nation is showing no signs of slowing down.

According to the latest figures released by Safaricom, owners of M-Pesa, Kenyans spent an incredible Sh83.2 billion on betting using the M-Pesa deposit method in the six-month period between April and September 2021.

During the same period last year, the betting expenditure via M-Pesa was Sh49.2 billion. The 2021 figures represent a 69 per cent increment on the 2020 numbers.

Note that these figures are only for deposits made via Safaricom's M-Pesa. They do not take into account payments made through other platforms like Airtel Money, cards deposits and e-wallets.

Having said that, M-Pesa commands by far the largest share of payments into betting sites in Kenya. The best betting sites in Kenya all have M-Pesa as one of their main deposit options.

The staggering numbers were recorded despite the government's tough tax laws on sports betting.

The Kenya Revenue Authority, the body in charge of taxation in Kenya, receives 7.5 per cent of every money wagered on sports betting. They also take 20 per cent of all winnings and collect corporate taxes from all registered betting sites in Kenya.

However, all of these have not derailed betting sites and Kenyan bettors. They have been carrying on in their merry ways!

But why has online betting continued to prosper despite the seeming government crackdown? 

There are many driving forces behind online betting, but the most obvious reason behind the rapid growth of betting in Kenya is that it offers an opportunity to make easy money. That's what many punters think anyway!

While some view betting as a source of entertainment and relaxation, the majority of bettors in Kenya see betting as a viable means of income.

Kenya has a large and ambitious youth population who are desperate to explore every legal opportunity to get rich, and betting provides a seemingly good avenue to make money.

Online betting is not only limited to the poor and unemployed, it is also very popular among the working class.

Betting has been made ridiculously easy by the proliferation of smartphones in the country. With mobile penetration in Kenya on the rise, many people now own smartphones and are able to place bets from the comfort of their bedrooms.

The Internet is also a lot better these days, while mobile money networks like M-Pesa have made deposits and withdrawals from betting sites remarkably convenient.

Given the multi-billion-shillings nature of online sports betting, this spike looks set to continue. Stakeholders like Safaricom and the sites themselves are generating so much revenue, and will therefore do all it takes to foster an enabling betting environment for Kenyan bettors.

Even the government is not as antagonistic as it was a few years ago when it practically chased betting big guns, SportPesa and Betin out of the country.

Online betting has become a big part of the Kenyan lifestyle and economy, and it appears everyone is now ready to embrace it.