Magazine article African Business

Kenya Gambles on Mobile Betting: Mobile Gaming and Online Casinos Have Triggered the Success of a $30M Gambling Industry

Magazine article African Business

Kenya Gambles on Mobile Betting: Mobile Gaming and Online Casinos Have Triggered the Success of a $30M Gambling Industry

Article excerpt

For two years now, sports betting has been part of Kevin Mwangi's life. The university student uses his spare time, mostly weekends, to place bets worth $1, as he tries his chances of winning cash prizes. All he needs is a mobile phone, which he uses to predict the results of a variety of games such as soccer and motor racing, some taking place in different continents. His biggest prize so far stands at Kshs5,500 ($344).

Like him, thousands of Kenyans are slowly warming up to mobile gaming, a growing trend that has seen the number of online and mobile gaming sites rise exponentially over the past two years.

Some of these sports betting sites have whetted the appetite of gamers by introducing jackpots.

Recently, a young mother of two children won a Kshs22m ($212,000) jackpot prize, one of the largest in Kenya.

In the suburbs of Nairobi, small gaming slot machines are gaining popularity in both residential and commercial centres, with locals having a chance of playing for as little as Kshs10 ($0.01)

The growing appetite of gamers like Mwangi has spurred the growth of the local gambling industry; a trend that David Moshi, the chairman of the Association of Gaming Operators, says will change many lives.

Statistics paint the picture of an industry on the rise. The gross gambling revenue is estimated to be in excess of $30m (Kshs3bn), which is expected to grow to about $50m (Kshs5bn) in 2017, according to a 2015 report on gambling by industry regulator the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB).

Data shows that Kenya has 43 licensed casinos with a gross annual revenue turnover of $18m (Kshs1.8bn). But while casinos are the predominant form of gambling in South Africa and Nigeria, the new trend of online and mobile betting is quickly redefining the industry in Kenya.

With about 28 licensed operators holding bookmakers or sports betting licences, most of which own sports betting shops, Kenya is quickly catching up with its peers in Africa.

Currently, about eight operators use the online or SMS platforms for sports betting. This segment has grown tremendously since 2013 when the first online sports betting operator was launched.

Kenya's gambling industry's rise is in tandem with that of other African countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, whose gambling revenues continue to surge despite challenging and weakening economies.

A 2015 report on gambling (South Africa-Nigeria-Kenya) released by auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows that gross gambling revenues in South Africa in 2014 had their second-largest annual increase over the past five years, with casinos taking the largest share of this growth, rising by 4.5% over 2013.

Of the three countries included in the analysis, South Africa has the largest overall gambling market. In South Africa, gross casino gambling revenues totalled R17.2bn ($1.08bn) in 2014 compared with $31,000 in Nigeria and 14,000 [pounds sterling] in Kenya.

Betting on the future

So ripe for development is the mobile and online gaming industry in Kenya that the PwC report tips it to grow tremendously in the next few years, rising from $20.1m in 2014 to $28.9m in 2019, eclipsing casino gambling, which is projected to grow at a minimal rate.

"We anticipate slower economic growth to lead to slower growth in gross casino gambling revenues in South Africa and Nigeria, while Kenya's casinos will face increasing competition from legal online and mobile gambling," noted gambling industry leader for PwC South Africa, Pietro Calicchio.

So far, top global companies have penetrated the Kenyan gambling market as the popularity of mobile gaming sites has shot up.

Some of the leading names in Kenya are SportPesa, Betin, Betway, Oxygen8 (Live Lotto) and mCheza.

According to Kester Shimonyo, the marketing director of SportPesa, a popular mobile- and online-based sports betting site, gaming has been overwhelmingly received in Kenya, as his firm struggles to keep up with the huge number of customers. …

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