Martin Nyakundi O’Barimo
As Secretary General of Television Viewers and Radio Listeners Association of Kenya (TEVIRA), a consumer organisation that protects the interests of viewers of television and listeners of radio in Kenya, I often read the concerns of Kenyans on our ever-busy Facebook page. Among the many things that concern parents are the reports of rampant corruption, involvement of the youth in dangerous crime, alcohol and drug abuse, illegitimate sexual relations, delinquency generally, and gambling.
Corruption, on its part, is threatening to lead to extinction of the poor and the powerless. This is because it ensures resources do not reach those it is aimed at. Corruption is such a bad disease that is both endemic and pandemic to the extent that it should be declared a national disaster, and curative measures be immediately put in place to halt it in its tracks.
In fact, the topic on corruption should be included in every syllabus right from elementary school to teach our society that everyone must “eat his or her own sweat” and that unfair enrichment is illegal, immoral and sinful. Actually, if all our funds were put to the purposes they are budgeted for and all political and socioeconomic opportunities be distributed as required, impartially and fairly, our country would be at par with developed countries in terms of income per capita and development agenda. The desire to get rich through corruption is killing our present society and wiping out the future generations. We simply must put a stop to this state of affairs. We have to have an attitude shift.
Because of corruption, embezzlement of public funds and mismanagement of our resources, the majority of Kenyans, particularly the youth, are unemployed, others are under-employed while others have been turned by life into zombies, cabbages and charlatans, and are slowly wasting away outside alcohol dens or drug peddling joints as society watches. The youth have been affected the most. A majority wallow in the fantasy of driving swanky cars and living large. However, they do not know how to get there. Some will join criminal gangs, which may answer a few questions to their problems, but this is short lived and dangerous. Despite these risks, every Kenyan is struggling to put food on the table. As a result the Kenyan mind has been taken advantage of, including by the quick thinking minds of prisoners in the various dungeons, whose criminal mind knows how to juggle the brain of a poor Kenyan to their advantage. It must be borne in mind that it is not just the poor who want to get rich as quickly as possible; the rich too want to get richer and have also not been left out of these down-the-hill sojourns.
The best alternative to the nirvana that the youth intend to achieve has come in form of gambling. It is the answer to the many questions that travel in the minds of the youth. Actually, it is the black oil of the Kenyan poor. It provides hope for the poor whose avenues of getting rich seem closed by huge gates and padlocks. It has brought back smiles to some who had lost hope of ever achieving their childhood dreams of “becoming somebodies”. Gambling in Kenya comes in many forms through sports betting, lotteries and promotions.
This essay shall study all forms of gambling and/or promotions, including their sociological, psychological, pathological and economic effects to our society at large. I talked to people of all ages and walks of life in regard to gambling. They all had their own view, which shall come up later on in the essay. Of interest was that the majority of people complained about the promotions that are run by various organizations and companies particularly on their objectivity and impartiality.
Suspicions on promotions
Companies usually run promotions through radio, television or road shows, to encourage their clientele/customers to buy more or spend more on a product or service. However, a majority of Kenyans seem not convinced that the promotions run by Safaricom and Airtel are genuine, and raised the following questions in support of their suspicions: a) why is it that Caucasians, Asians or Somalis do not win where the prize is won by merely loading credit continuously and yet a majority of them load credit frequently, and in higher amounts? b) How come rich people do not win in the promotions? c) Why is the winner not picked in public in front of cameras, for transparency and accountability? d) Why does Safaricom and/or Airtel seem to hide the “terms and conditions” in such a way as to ensure few people access these terms as possible and therefore remain ignorant of the rules of the game?
These are legitimate questions. An official from the Betting, Licensing and Control Board informed me that they are always represented during the draw to determine the winner, and that the “terms and conditions” must be published on the print media at the beginning of every promotion. The effectiveness of the Betting, Licensing and Control Board – of protecting Kenyans from unscrupulous promotions and gambling generally, or lack of it – shall be discussed later in this essay. However, the admission that one member or two from the board are always present during the draw to determine the winner raises more questions than answers. How such officers, who earn less than Sh40, 000 a month are expected to remain strict and objective during such draws is anybody’s guess. How the officers can face the financial muzzle of the telephone giants and declare a repeat of the process where one feels the rules set out by the law were not followed is a laughable conjecture. In any event, this has never happened in the history of betting and gambling in Kenya. Promotions will therefore remain “promotions” in the eyes of Kenyans until the questions raised by the members of the public are answered.
The drive of gambling
The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems at McGill University defines gambling as “taking part in any game or activity in which you risk money or a valuable object in order to win money”, and gives examples as including Lotteries (Lotto 6/49®, Lotto Super 7®), Instant lotteries (7 chanceux®, other scratch cards), Bingo, Betting on billiards or pool, Card games (poker, blackjack, etc.), Private sports betting/sports lotteries (Mise-au-jeu®), Casino games (slot machines, roulette, Keno®), Video lottery terminals, Internet gambling, and Dice.
What then are the reasons that encourage people to involve themselves in betting? Gambling Anonymous, an association that is formed by those who have recovered from gambling addiction, to help others get away from the habit, has given several reasons that make people to engage in it.
To begin with, the desire and desperation for instant money drives most gamblers to risk whatever small they have in hopes of winning the jackpot. Unemployment creates a catalyst that drives even the most cautious people to try their luck. Unfortunately, the majority does not win but news of one of them winning encourages them to continue putting more, in the hope that one day their chance will come. In desperation, some may end up selling whatever property they have to “invest” in gambling. By the time one realises, they have sold everything and are much worse off than they were at the beginning before the gamble.
Secondly, some gamble for the thrill of it. There are people who gamble to have hope on something because they have become hopeless in society. These categories of people include those who inherit big money that they did not sweat or work for. They put money anywhere and everywhere. The saying goes that a fool and his money are soon departed, and Wilson Mizner was opined that “gambling is the sure way of getting nothing for something”, the once rich person goes back to zero and can be seen on the street corners talking to themselves as they remember their best moments and self destruction sojourns.
Another factor that drives people to engage in gambling is the self-reassuring advertisements that are run all the time on radio, television and the Internet. The adverts keep reminding people and encouraging them to “try their luck”. With time, even the very reluctant souls throw in the towel and join the queue.
As well, gambling points have been brought closer to the people. They are to be found on the streets, estates, offices, hospitals and even prisons. In every populous estate, one is very much likely to find various gambling joints, and young people can be heard telling each other how they are “winning this time”. One wonders why these young people have not gone to work or to look for work instead of idling away their time with the “devils playthings”. It more likely than not that anyone found in such a place does not have a source of income and is likely involved in criminal activities. Such joints encourage the young people to become lazy and complacent, with hope that they are soon winning the jackpot and strike it rich overnight. As a result, the rate of crime is on the rise and society is becoming more dangerous than before.
As for the owners of the betting companies, the results are insurmountable. They rake in millions of shillings every day. An exploration of the statistics is shocking on how much money gamblers have lost to the betting companies. The companies have definitely found a gold mine in the gamblers and are very keen to take every piece out of the people.
The unfortunate part is that a majority of the betting companies are foreign-owned and there is no evidence that they reinvest any of the profits earned in Kenya, or that they promote programmes to improve the social economic status of the masses except a few acts of charity as provided by law. There appears to be extreme limitations on the control of foreign companies by the government, which fears discouraging investments if a lot of roadblocks are placed on the way of the foreign companies in terms of regulations and guidelines.
Gambling companies must be seen to be in the forefront of fighting poverty through employment creation programmes that are unique to every locality where they have a large number of “clients”, to level the scores. This would include having entrepreneurship programmes for the youth, widows and widowers as a way of reinvesting back in the societies where their activities are rampant. They should also put systems and mechanisms in place for rehabilitation of those who have become cabbages and zombies as a result of gambling addiction, to make them suitable for nation building in the society where they live such as construction of Gambling Addiction Rehabilitation Centres.
Sports betting and the future of our society
For the last few years, there has been a proliferation of sports betting in Kenya like an avalanche. They have come with various names, colors, rules and catchphrases. They include Sportspesa, Mcheza, Elitebet, Justbet, Betyetu, Betway, and Eazibet just to mention some of them.
Sportpesa, as it is globally known, is a Kenya-based sports betting website, owned and operated by Pevans East Africa Limited. The Sportpesa Kenya website is licensed by the Betting Control Licensing Board (BCLB) under the Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act (Cap 131). The company is also said to have broken convention in the industry by creating a community involved gaming brand that is deeply committed to sports development in local communities.
The company which in 2016, won the Best African Sponsorship Award at the Discovery Sports Industry Awards (DSIA) and recognized this year as a Super brand when placed 13th in the ranking of the best companies in Kenya, is also licensed and operates in four other core markets such as Tanzania, South Africa, Isle of Man and United Kingdom, where it operates in conjunction with the well established company TGP Europe. This company has made the country crazy in the amounts of money won by those who placed the bet.
Just recently, Samuel Abisai is said to have correctly predicted 17 games and won a whooping Sh221 Million Sportspesa Mega Jackpot. It was the first ever such win on African soil and it woke up the continent to sudden attention. By all standards in Africa, that is dream money and everyone kept asking themselves what they would do with such an enormous amount of money if they would have won it. This was not the only win. Nairobi businessman George Mwangi who had spent a total of 16,000 to bet won Sh29 million. A sales lady in Eldoret, Elimah Khanatisa was also awarded with a cool Sh22 million, which she is said to have won through betting on Sportpesa. It is these wins that motivate and tempt people of all walks of life to engage in betting. The M-Cheza Company is associated with media personality Julie Gichuru and is touted to be different from all sports betting companies because it encourages responsible betting in regard to enabling individuals to set personal limits on their bets in an attempt to limit people from parting with all their amount of money that they own.
Those in support of sports betting have raised strong points in support of the game in a number of ways. First, they claim that sports betting create employment to various jobless people directly and indirectly in terms of the work force of the companies, bonuses and sponsorships. They claim that gambling both in casinos and On-line sports betting has created various opportunities for the youth. Although these betting companies do not employ many permanent employees; they pay the staff quite well. For instance, in Sportpesa, the average salary of a software programmer/IT expert amounts to Sh350, 000, while data analysts earn between Sh100, 000 – Sh210, 000 with fresh graduates with degrees in computer science, business administration, statistics, economics or any other related course earning between Sh70, 000 – Sh120, 000. In addition, the company also pays attractive bonuses every three months computed at three times the salary of the employee.
Secondly, the betting companies are credited with revitalizing the soccer sector in Kenya which has been declining all the years. Sportpesa has been more pronounced on this sector. On 6 August 2015, Sportpesa gained the naming rights to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), signing a four-and-a-half-year deal with the KPL worth Sh450 million to rename the league to the ‘Sportpesa Premier League” and as part of the sponsorship, a new trophy was revealed by Sportpesa and the KPL on 30 October 2015 which was manufactured in Italy, weighing made of pure brass and weighing 12 Kilograms. Further, on 30 June 2016, Sportpesa signed a 5-year partnership with Football Kenya Federation (FKF) as the Federation’s official betting partner. This deal made Sportpesa the first official partners of FKF. On 6 February 2016, Arsenal Football Club announced Sportpesa as its Official Betting Partner in Kenya. The deal involved Arsenal sending coaches to hold training camps in Kenya.
On 25 July 2016, Sportpesa announced a three-year sponsorship deal with UK football club Hull City. This deal made history as it was the first time a Kenyan company was sponsoring a Premier League team. The deal is the largest in the club’s history. Later the same day, Hull City displayed its new home kit with black and amber vertical stripes, complemented by black shorts and amber socks. In addition to sponsorship, Sportpesa also committed to upgrade the City Stadium at a cost of Sh100 million due to its poor. Finally earlier this month, Sportpesa announced that it had become Everton Football Club’s main partner after Hull City was relegated from the Premier League.
Thirdly gambling generally generates revenue to the government both at the county level and at the national level in form of taxes. Actually, 50% of government revenue is raised from taxes from various sources including from gambling. Actually, during the Budget Speech this year, the Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich increased the taxes charged on betting and lottery companies to 50% up from 7.5% previously charged. This taxation also spreads to winners who must also part with half of what they win. This means that if a lucky winner gets 100 million in a jackpot, he/she will have to part with 50 million which goes to the government in form of taxes.
Therefore looked at from the viewpoint of positive economics, gambling is a good investment industry that can promote economic development of our country much faster than any other sector. For instance Macau in China, which is the largest gambling city in the universe, generated a whooping equivalent of 45 Trillion shillings in 2015 half of which went to government in form of revenue. Similarly, in Las Vegas, the second largest gambling city after Macau made than Sh6.5 trillion shillings in the same year. One thing to note is that 90 % of the economy of Las Vegas is built on gambling.
Sports betting and transparency
Questions have been raised on the objectivity and impartiality of the betting process in general and On-line betting in particular. The questions relate to the possibility of match fixing and software interference. Match fixing has been a challenge in most jurisdictions where betting is more rampant particularly where the jackpot is immense. This happens as follows: In game between a strong team A and a weak team B, a majority of people shall place their bets on A beating B. If A beats B, the betting company shall not make any money because most people shall win. To beat this disadvantage, the match is fixed through connivance with the teams to the extent that the weak team beats the strong team and therefore all the gamblers shall lose their bets. On the other hand, the betting closes just before the game is played. However, it is the betting company which controls the software that closes and opens the betting sessions. It is possible therefore to open a session for a particular individual to bet after the matches have been played and therefore determine who wins and in which country and continent. It is in the interest of international betting companies that someone wins in Africa, followed by another Continent such as Asia or Europe so as to encourage people in all continents to be encouraged to bet. It is not in the interest of these companies that people continuously win from one particular continent and leave out others. As long as the software of opening and closing the betting period remains with the betting company, the transparency and objectivity of the betting companies remains questionable and suspicious.
Betting and Financial Devastation
Betting is said to be always successful because someone from the house shall win. Even if others do not win, one person shall at least win. However, not all the people who win stop playing. They get encouraged to play more until what they had won is given back to the betting company. For example, if a person wins 20, 000 shillings in betting, he/she will use most of it if not all to place more bets with a clear hope of winning the jackpot. The trend will continue until when one finds becomes completely empty. Betting should not be and cannot be a full time job as many of our young people have made it to be. A good number have used their rent or money for buying food to bet. The worst cases have used their education fees to throw onto betting. Last year, Gilbert Okinyi, a student at the University of Nairobi, lost 40, 000 fee after placing his stake on Manchester United, which was playing with Swansea City in the English Premier League. The Biosystems Engineering student then embarrassed himself by requesting the Sportpesa Chief Executive, Ronald Kamwiko Karauri, to have “mercy upon him and return the school fee”. Many students have testified how they have lost their money through sports betting and regret why they engaged in it in the first place. Adults have also fallen prey to this addiction. A bodaboda operator John Muchanga killed two people at a Casino in Eastleigh last year after losing 30,000 shillings while betting.
Betting and redundancy
Betting is the same as drug abuse. It is absolutely addictive and involving. The thrill of expecting to win is such a contagious disease that imprisons every activity of a gambler. For instance, most employees who engage in betting will do it even in the workplaces. If two or more employees are involved in the same bets, that will become the major point of discussion at work. It will become their preoccupation physically and psychologically.