Additional reporting by Peter Pedroncelli, AFKSports Editor
“It costs me almost nothing and I can win a lot!,” Rajab Wesonga, 36, told AFKInsider as he placed his bet for the week on Sportpesa, Kenya’s most popular sports betting mobile website.
Sitting in his grass thatched house in Musango, a remote village in Kakamega county, located in the western region of the east African Nation, Wesonga is able to place bets as small as 100 shillings (about $1) that he says can win him as much as 50,000 shillings ($525) in a week. That’s more than his annual income.
“I won 22,500 shilling after placing one of my bet and that helped me pay school fees for my three children and buy a bicycle,” Wesonga said.
For him and several other young men across the continent, placing their bet on sports betting sites is now an addiction they cannot dispense of. They place their bets every week at the comfort of their homes using mobile phones.
Sportpesa is the biggest sport betting player in East Africa. Its website shows that the company has partnered with regional telcos to link their product with mobile money services such as Airtel Money, Orange Money and M-Pesa.
The use of mobile phones across Africa has helped the region leapfrog the fixed telephone era which most of the developed world went through in the 80’s and early 90’s. It has also fast tracked technological adoptions and financial access for many Africans.
With internet penetration and the use of mobile money growing, other services, such as sports betting, have piggybacked on these to reach a mass market they previously could not access.
Over the last few years, sports betting has grown steadily in many parts of Africa, with passionate sports fans, mainly in European leagues, getting involved via companies that decide the odds on various sports games and competitions.
The continent is quickly emerging as one of the most promising and lucrative sports betting playgrounds for gambling firms due to its favorable lax laws on betting.
Certain African countries including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, have experienced massive outbreaks of online betting companies, a 2014 report on gambling in Africa by Price Water Coopers showed.
The report said that with a four-year average growth rate of 6.9 percent, gambling in these three countries will be worth around $37 billion by the year 2018, with the sports betting segment growing at 21.3 per cent in South Africa alone, according to a 2013 figure in the report.
Government statistics show that more than half of the adult population in South Africa is involved in gambling activities on a regular basis, including the lottery, with sports betting sites like SportsBet, Ladbrokes, Bet.co.za and Betxchange.co.za actively expanding their client base in the country.
These betting companies provide an online platform where people can access the information, upload funds with which to bet on their preferred sports, and make the decision in terms of which players, teams or elements of the sport to bet on.
At the end, they either win money as a result of the bets they have made, or they lose out on the funds they have risked.
The bets can be as simple as team A beating team B, or it can be as complicated as how many throw ins will take place during a football match, or which player will be the first to score a goal in a particular game.
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, sports betting is also growing very fast with about 60 million Nigerians betting an average of $9million each day, according to a News Agency of Nigeria report.
But not all countries in Africa have embraced the betting phenomenon.
African nations with a large Muslim population have either banned or restricted sports betting to very few places. Islam as a faith does not allow gambling, and sports betting falls under that umbrella.
Recently in Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh banned gambling of any nature with immediate effect, including lotteries, casinos and sports betting.
“Gambian society has been built on the foundations of promoting positive social values like thrift and integrity rather than negative ones like greed and avarice,” President Jammeh said in a statement.
“Therefore, it is the duty of the Gambia government to safeguard and promote the public welfare of our citizens.”